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Jello Biafra & The Guantanamo School of Medicine - Pyarmid Cabaret (Winnipeg, Canada), Monday, October 11th 2010

14 October 2010

At the start of this Thanksgiving Day show Jello Biafra leapt onto the stage clad in a blood-soaked lab coat and rubber gloves and dove straight into the opening song, with nary a speech. It was a sight to behold. Sure he’s gained some weight and lost some hair but Jello Biafra still madly mimes to each song like some sort of punk rock Red Skeleton.

The set list was heavy with material from his sole album with The Guantanamo School of Medicine, The Audacity of Hype but peppered with even newer songs as well as quartet of classics from his earliest days with the Dead Kennedys. The new material like the hardcore-paced “New Feudalism” got the crowd riled-up – there were probably at least three fights, as if fists alone could turn the clock back to 1982 – but nothing jolted the crowd quite like those oldies. In response to that fact Jello said “I’m proud of those old songs but when I got into punk it was about doing something new” just before launching into the blistering newer-than-new track, “Dot Com Monte Carlo”.

Of the four old tracks it was “California Uber Alles” (now updated to condemn Arnold Schwarzenegger) and “Holiday in Cambodia” that helped fuse past and present. Those thirty years just seemed to melt away as Jello, his creepy, wavery voice in perfect shape, jumped into the crowd.

The band (Ralph Spight on guitar, Kimo Ball on guitar, Andrew Weiss on bass and Jon Weiss drums) let Jello hold center stage but, musically they matched him blow for blow. Truth be told, it’s hard to imagine even a re-formed Dead Kennedy’s providing the man as much fire. GSM are still recognizably a punk rock band but always with a noisy, experimental edge to go with the spiky but hooky tunes, like the show-closing “I Won’t Give Up”, that Biafra pens to carry his venomous lyrics.

Jello’s trademark political bile can still be incisive (“Doing drugs may be stupid but it is not a crime” he quips in live video posted on YouTube). On this night, Jello spoke at length on all his favourite practitioners of malfeasance: the government, the corporations and the church. These speeches can divide the audience (so much for “preaching to the converted” charge long leveled at the man). While some in the audience cheer Jello’s every word, others cross their arms and commence fidgeting as the speeches lengthen. At one point Jello sneered, “So what do you think of Barrack Star Obama now?” a line that could elicit bloodthirsty cheers at any Tea Party rally. Of course any red-blooded right-winger’s joy would be short-lived as Jello relentlessly excoriated the rich and powerful of the world, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his oil sands as well as Tim Horton’s and their “shitty donuts”.

Political discourse and rock n’ roll; all in all, it was a bloody good night.