Jello Biafra took to the stage wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a long, flowing, purple and gold, silk cape. While Biafra is a flashy guy, this was flashy even for his standards. But, quite fittingly, it worked as a metaphor for the Guantanamo School of Medicine's new songs. As the band tore through a set of almost all new songs Aug. 22 at Oakland's Metro Opera house, the band finally capitalized on their potential.
Although the GSM's last two physical releases were good, the common criticism was that they were too long and too samey by the end, despite their initial rush of energy. Also, while the songs rocked, they seemed to be somewhat under-rehearsed. While Enhanced Methods of Questioning was a little bit more fiery than its predecessor, the band still seemed to be locked in a single tempo grove.
Well, songs like "Brown Lipstick parade" and "Dillinger" showed that while the band still likes long songs, they've perfected their best elements and have done away with the rest. "Dillinger" storms along almost like a thrash metal song, getting heavier, wilder and faster as it tears towards a conclusion. "Brown Lipstick Parade," while fairly long, features multiple twists and turns in its heavy rock/hardcore punk template, keeping its interesting and multi-textured feel throughout. Perhaps the best new song is "Road Rage," where Jello might cut his fastest and fiercest vocals to date while the band blasts through frantic hardcore riffs that could fly off the rails at any moment. The new songs are faster, harder, wilder and more varied that anything the band has done in the past.
Perhaps this was due to new drummer Paul Della Pelle,who has drummed with Chrome and Nik Turner of Hawkwind. The influence is palpable. Della Pelle storms forward with the speed of Plastic Surgery Disasters but he keeps a heavy hand, striking as hard as the drums on Space Ritual. The effect makes the band a heavier, looser unit, albeit one that flies forward with fresh speed.
While the band still plays a few Dead Kennedys classics, including the frequent set staples "Holiday in Cambodia" and a Melvins-fied "Kalifornia Uber Alles," they also dropped in a few more rare DK tunes. "Chemical Warfare" was a nice surprise as the band ripped through a faithful version of the song. Later on, Biafra started talking about how he wrote a song as a way to cut down violence at the shows, but in Europe, people took the song as a stance against fascism. He then saluted Pussy Riot and the band played a blistering, double time rendition of "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," which needless to say, was damn fierce and damn fast.
Perhaps most interesting was the number of younger folks in the audience. Often, Biafra's shows are populated by the 30+ crowd. Not so at the Oakland Metro. Even more encouraging was that younger people seemed to appreciate the GSM equally for their history as for their current works. This could be promising…
The show opened with Alternative Tentacles' own Pins of Light. The last time I saw the band, they were playing an interesting mix of space rock and Mötörhead, but didn't quite achieve the level of wildness and weirdness that makes both those genres so interesting. Well, the band has increased both of those attributes. Although they are still anchored by a heavy, rumbling low end, they switched between more standard charging and out there sonic exploration. Even more, the explorations were interesting and pulled the listener along, instead of being mere exercises in acoustics. Equally, the band has become livelier on stage, both physically and in playing, which acted as a hook to bring the audience into their deep space exploration. Now that the band is solidifying what they do best, they are becoming a Bay Area band to keep an close eye on.
Next, Fracas cut through a set of sloppy hardcore. Composed of scene veterans, the band drew from equal parts Black Flag and Poison Idea, creating a rocking sound that suggested a sort of alcohol-induced nihilism. While the band's songs were well executed, it seems they need something unique to draw them to more interesting territories.
Before Jello and the GSM took the stage, Bay Area mainstay La Plebe blasted out a set of punk rock infused with Mariachi trappings. Very much a sing-a-long band, La Plebe had the audience up front belting out nearly every word of their set. La Plebe excels at writing classic sounding punk tunes and then supplementing them with horns, which gives the songs a timeless feel without feeling dated. Midway through their set they said they were going to pay tribute to the Clash's Joe Strummer, but then puzzlingly, played a cover of "Guns of Brixton," which was famously written and sung by Clash bassist Paul Simonon. Further, it was quite interesting to see that while La Plebe were the youngest act on the bill by a good decade, it seemed that their songs had been the most road tested and were the most well known (aside from the DK covers, of course.) I am not sure if that its a good thing or bad thing or something else.
-At the show, I talked to some random stranger about how awesome Gnarboots is for a good 15 minutes. Eventually, he walked away, unimpressed by my litany. Later, I looked down and saw that I was wearing my Gnarboots t-shirt. Awkwaaaard!
-Pete the Roadie sighting? Check.
-Frankly, I find many food vendors in the Bay Area to be quite rude as compared to my hometown of Philadelphia. However, there is a young fellow outside the Metro that sells hot dogs from the cart who is quite pleasant. Plus, the dogs are mad delicious. Recommend. Try the spicy mustard on a Polish frank.