Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine - Live in San Francisco (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

Live in San Francisco (2012)

live show

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are focusing on the here and now. While Biafra's shows usually feature a range of his projects, the March 18 show at San Francisco, Calif.'s Thee Parkside exhibited the band playing brand new songs and exorcising all but a few relics. To the band's credit, the strength of the newer material makes the decision to amputate the its history less painful, if still somewhat bittersweet.

Guitarist Ralph Spight opened the show with an extended feedback sound manipulation that wavered and grew in intensity until Biafra jumped on stage and the band broke into its snappy new number "Brown Lipstick Parade." An indictment of corporate payoffs, the song was propelled by an almost kitschy throwback to big band thwomping. Because the song was supported by Spight's driving Stooges-meets-metal guitar, the swinging rhythm gave the song distinction without loosing its snappiness and ma turn out to be one of the best GSM tunes yet.

Following that, the band played its driving thrasher "John Dillinger," which is so hard and heavy it's almost a Slayer song followed by the Mad-ish "Barack Star O'Bummer." While Biafra expresses that he feels betrayed by the President's promise, at times, his verbosity seems to get in the way of the music. Still, because the GSM band adheres to powerful riffs supported by punk energy, the clashing of Biafra's words against the rocking music creates an interesting contrast, and become magnified due to their elevation.

Promisingly, all of the new songs seem to have a unique identity, both in musicality and lyricism. While the previous GSM songs were good, the similarity of their tempo tended to meld them together. But here, the new songs each feature unique attributes, such as the aforementioned big band style, or the epic poem structure of "Shockupy" that makes each song tight as well as manifest exception. Still, as with the other GSM songs, while they all rock, they seem to be about twice as long as they need to be. Understandably, Jello has a lot to say, and he has a unique take on topics, but it would seem that the words in the second halves of his songs would garner more attention if they were delivered over a new musical backing.

The debut of the new, strong material came at a cost of older pre-GSM songs. While in the past, GSM would play about a handful of Dead Kennedys songs, here, the DKs were limited to just "Too Drunk to Fuck." Still, it's probably for the best, as the GSM had been playing the five or so biggest DK hits since its inception, and although they weren't stale, it seemed most audience members had heard those tunes live before. Still, some rarer DK tunes, perhaps material from Plastic Surgery Disasters, would be a joy to hear. The Lard "cover" "Forkboy" was a surprise, and the choice was masterful, pulling the song from its industrial roots into GSM-style punk thrash which mad the song both more organic and heavier.

Biafra was his usually fiery, energetic self, at times pantomiming lyrics or just whipping his body about on stage. Despite his 51 years of age, were Biafra wearing a hat, he could easily pass for a man half that number. Interestingly, Spight's warped personality seemed to shine through more than before. As the show began, he deadpanned "Oh, great, I got the mic that has been up someone's ass," commenting on its smell. Later, when Biafra's mic was faltering, Spight announced "That mic has issues. Give it to me. We belong together."

The new GSM tunes seem to be the group's best material to date. If old stuff has to get cut to make room, then at least the old songs' successors stand a chance of being iconic in their own right.

New Alternative Tentacles act Pins of Light opened the show. A mix of Hawkwind space rock, High on Fire thrashing, and Mötörhead rawness, the band stormed through about 10 tracks rooted in driving riffs, that occasionally dipped into the psychedelic and unusual. The new Pins of Light LP was a good debut, although somewhat samey in texture. Live, the band is already expanding its take, and delving into more experimental treks between more traditional stormers, which showed that the band has a real chance of making the quantum leap into greatness.

Following Pins of Light, established guitar and drum duo Black Cobra tore through a set of charging metal thrash. Also somewhat reminiscent of High on Fire, Black Cobra whipped the crowd into a frenzy with its rapid, down-tuned riffs and screamed vocals. Still, while the music was a good soundtrack for moshing, the relative sameness of the songs suggests that while the band kicks it out live, more variety in sound and tempo would make its most slamming riffs slam that much harder.

Random notes:

-Not to be a PR machine or fan boy, but Alternative Tentacles really does seem to walk the way they talk unlike some other labels--all of their shirts were manufactured in the U.S.A. as opposed to sweat shops

-CELEBRITY WATCHER: Comedian Brian Posehn was spotted headbanging to "Victory Stinks," while legendary Bay Area tech Pete the Roadie was seen getting the equipment primed, and yours truly was sighted wandering around Thee Parkside with a basket of tater tots and yelling "Melvins" and "CLASSICS OF LOVE" at anyone even remotely within hearing distance.

Jello Biafra & GSM setlist
-Brown Lipstick Parade (New song) -John Dillinger (New-ish song)
-Barack Star O'Bummer (New song)
-New Feudalism
-Victory Stinks
-Forkboy (Lard "Cover")
-Panic Land
-Electronic Plantation
-Three Strikes
-Invasion of the Mind Snatchers
-Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys "Cover")
-Pets Eat Their Masters
-Dot Com Monte Carlo
-Shock-upy (New Song)