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

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine

Live in Philadelphia (2014)

live show

Jello took to the stage of Philadelphia's Union transfer to a thunderous cacophony created by The Guantanamo School of Medicine while dressed in what looked like a cross between Doc Brown, Weird Science, and Devo. It was perfectly Jello. Immediately, Jello began to dart around the stage, pantomiming everything from greedy CEOs to musclebound meatheads as the band blasted out super heavy, super fast hardcore punk that verged into thrash metal. Throughout the band's extended 90 minute set on June 28, 2014, Jello demonstrated that he is at the top of his musical game.

Focusing heavily on the band's latest (and strongest) album, White People and the Damage Done, the band sped from song to song with few breaks, kicking out twisting riffs and keeping their foot on the pedal nearly the entire time. As before, the live show is where the GSM's songs really come to life. The multiple parts of the new songs really gain a vibrancy when played live– the fast parts are really fast and tge slow parts… well, are kind of fast. Meanwhile, Jello acts as much as he sings, almost putting on a mini–play with each song.

For his part, Jello was on fire, clearly enthused by the near–capacity Philadelphia crowd. His wonderfully unique tenor was golden as always, piecing through the powerful backing band. And really, he didn't stop for the entire night, stage diving, miming lifting a barbell, and dropping to his knees to pray in a comic fashion. Jello has stated that Looney Tunes influenced him a smuch as the news and music, and, in fact, as Jello was on his knees with a look of "I'm sowwy" on his face, he really did look like he was penciled on the stage by Chuck Jones.

The GSM has been getting stronger with each tour and the trend continues. For newer song "Mid–East Peace Process," the entire room shook as the band created what amounted to the sound of a jet engine taking off– it was loud, man. Intraband dynamics have further developed as well. Kimo Ball has further established his identity as a wunderkind shredder, ripping through notes quicker than a person could read them. Meanehile, Ralph Spight, who has never really gotten his due, snapped out hard as hell, rumbling riffs that could fit equally fit on AC/DC or Stooges records. (He was also wearing very Clash–ish spray panted work fatigues). It seemed that the band was having a particualar bit of fun when they played an extended blues jam while Jello talked, only to blast into a dynaite version, ultra–fast and loud version of "Nazi Punks Fuck Off!"

That segue also underscored the band's gambit. While they did play mostly newer stuff (which the crowd clearly dug) they slipped in about four Dead Kennedy tunes. But wisely, instead of making a big deal out of it, or making those songs the encore, or saying "and here's a Dead Kennedy song!" the band sprinkled them throughout the set and ripped into most of them without introduction, making it seem like the GSM tunes and DK tunes were all written in one manic session. Really, that's the way to do. The strategy fulfilled the fan desire to hear some classics without making the tunes seem like relics all while keeping the focus on the new stuff– that is to say, all these songs fit together and share the same narrative arc.

During the first of two encores, the band paid tribute to Wesley Willis with a jacked up version of "Rock n Roll McDonalds" before blasting into "Holiday in Cambodia." Near the end, Jello slipped into another role and sang "Too Drunk to Fuck." as New Jersey governor Chris Christie. That's what Jello is all about– attack the targets, but why not get your yuks along the way–

The show opened with Philadelphia's own Mischief Brew and aware that they were playing with some heavy hitters, the band came out swinging. One thing that Mischief Brew has mastered is dynamics, so their set began with just vocalist Erik Peterson and a guitar. But, as he built intensity, the band filled in behind him so by the end, instead of being a–guy–with–a–guitar, the band was a high powered, slamming punk band. Despite that they are working on new material, and have been eking out new tunes here and there, the band opted for a "greatest hits" set to really set the tone for the night. Still, it helps that a lot of the greatest hits come from their fantastic last album, The Stone Operation.

One thing that becomes apparent at Mischief Brew's live shows is that they know to write a goddam song. Their songs seem to start with a single note or hum, only to build in swinging arcs until a the end, rafters are shaking. The band might cringe at the comparison, but some off Mischief Brew's swinging riffs almost have the power of Thin Lizzy's blues–based smash. Of course, despite their electrified strategy, the band held fast to their old–world core. At times, guitarist Doc Kulp would set his instrument down and bang on makeshift percussion, giving the band a shambling underpinning, which of course, makes them that much more impulsive. It's one thing to have a freight train barreling down on you, but it's quite another to have a freight train barreling down that could fly off the tracks at any minute, roll down a series of hills, and take out an entire block.

Before Jello and the GSM, Negative Approach blasted through a set that started at 10 and stayed there. Vocalist John Brannon affixed a mean–as–hell scowl to his face, clenched his body, and stayed there, roaring out one–minute thrasher after one minute thrasher. The band had riffs that were the size of boxcars, charging forward, often blending into a blur of clanging. There weren't so much songs as sprints that paused for brief seconds– just enough time for you to get back on your feet before the band blasted you down again. Brannon seem bolted to the same spot on stage with the hate radiating through his body so much he seemed to be all he could to not freak out and start hurting people. Fitting then, is it that the band closed with a cover of the Weirdo's "Solitary Confinement." Brannon is one scary looking dude with one scary looking scowl. Do not be startin' something.

Random Notes

  • Pete the Roadie, the world's most famous roadie, was doing what he does best– picking up mic stands, keeping the floor dry, pushing rowdy fans off the stage… often all three at the same time! If you get a chance to see Pete in action, you need to go to that concert. Even of you don't like the band, you still need to go– Pete in action is a beauteous thing to see.

  • In fact, the audience was so impressed by Pete the Roadie that people lined up to meet him after the show. One kid said to me, "Man, that guy is awesome!" I said, "Dude, you don't even know! He's roadied for everyone from Amebix to Fugazi to Neurosis!" and the kid said to me, "I don't know. But I need to! I. NEED. TO."

  • I said that Jello is in his live prime, but I sort of lied. He is in his second live prime (tied with those insanely great Jelvins shows.)

  • Jello, Negative Approach, and Mischief Brew this month– Subhumans, Nightbirds and the Brew next month– Philly's R5 productions is just killing it by pairing the legendary bands with the best new ones. Man! (I'm not reciving payola for that shout out, FYI, I'm just totally down with all era of punk rock.)

  • Philadelphia shows are getting rowdier and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Sure, the drunken buffoon is annoying. But, we live in an era where people type out hateful and idiotic things from a computer, but won't say word one to someone in person. Meanwhile, a wasted 15 year old takes one look at a six foot five, 325lb bouncer and says to himself, "I'm gonna start shit with that guy!"