Of all the great punk shows I've seen in my life and, of all of the great classic punk "icons" I have met, never have I had a chance to watch or meet the seemingly reclusive Jello Biafra. He always seems to surface once and a while for some spoken word shows, and the one time recently he DID come to L.A., I didn't know until it was too late.
I have been a Dead Kennedys fan (like many of you) and a Jello Biafra fan in general for many, many years. I own and adore almost everything the man has created, from the awesomely bizarre Witch Trials album to his collaborations with both D.O.A. and NoMeansNo. Over the past year we have seen a sudden explosion of activity by Jello, which has included 2 new albums with the Melvins (Never Breathe What You Can't See and Sieg Howdy) and an extensive musical tour (something, to my knowledge, Jello hasn't done in many years). So, needless to say, when I heard that this tour was making its final stop in Los Angeles I was extremely excited.
I got to the show about only an hour early (no thanks to the horrible traffic on the 101), but luckily I arrived to a relatively empty Henry Fonda Theater. It's a nice place (I saw the Circle Jerks here little more than a year before) but the barricade in front of the stage (which is horribly common these days) was thoroughly irritating. The first band, called Killradio, came on at 9pm. I had heard the name before but honestly had no idea what to expect. They played a surprisingly good mix of hardcore and pop-punk, while managing to avoid the trappings of most new bands by incorporating plenty of funky and jazzy guitar riffs, not to mention a healthy dose of intensity. Their singer/guitarist really knows how to put on a show and can play his ass off. I haven't heard anything from them before but I'll have to check 'em out sometime; it was a good start to a legendary evening.
Next, after a refreshingly short wait, was a band called Altamont fronted by Melvins drummer Dale Crover. They seemed to play a heavy blend of hard rock with some pop sensibilities, very tight and well done, but nothing too memorable. Maybe I'll have to pick up their album and see if I can get into it better.
Anyway, they played a short set and, rather than leaving the stage and pulling the curtains, two band members (the drummer and the keyboardist/bassist) remained onstage making some absolutely cacophonous noise as the Melvins set up (I guess to keep us entertained). After about ten minutes of noise they left stage and on came the Melvins, which proceeded to plunge into yet another 5 minutes of loud, screeching noise (which pissed off some of the audience, but I thought it was great) before blasting into the epic "Amazon" from their 1999 album The Maggot. This is one of my favorite songs by them, so I was psyched, until they went into the next song "The Bloated Pope" (from their recent Pigs of the Roman Empire album with Lustmord) which happened to be yet ANOTHER favorite of mine. The Melvins are easily the absolute LOUDEST band I have ever seen; there were times when I didn't think my ears could take much more. Now I've seen some REALLY hard bands, but nothing comes close to the insane noise these guys produce; it's just terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. I can see why it might not be everybody's thing, but it's certainly MY thing.
Anyway, their excellent set concluded and on stage sprinted the man himself, Jello Biafra, dressed in a bloody lab coat and surgeons gloves, under which he wore 2 shirts, one a large upper-body-covering American flag and the other his new "Democracy We Deliver" t-shirt. They went on to play an amazing set of songs off both of the new 'Jelvins' LPs, several Dead Kennedys songs, a loving cover of Wesley Willis' "Rock N' Roll McDonalds," and, surprisingly, the song "Forkboy" by Jello's former collaboraters Lard. Jello may have gained a few pounds over the years, but he thankfully hasn't forgotten how to put on a show, as he still managed to do his fair share of freaking out, stage diving (shirtless at one point, glad I wasn't under him and his sweat), and the strange hand motions he is famous for. His vocals are still in high quality -- very clear and just as snotty as ever before. He, expectantly, went into a long anti-Bush "spoken word" piece during the interlude in the classic DK track "Bleed for Me." Some of the security seemed offended; I thought it was great.
Anyway, a killer show with passionate performances by all. The set list for the Jelvins was "approximately" as follows:
- McGruff the Crime Dog
- When Ya Get Drafted
- California Uber Alles
- I Am the Owl
- Yuppie Cadillac
- Bleed for Me
- Chemical Warfare
- Caped Crusader
- Voted Off the Island
- The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism
- Lesson in What Not to Become
- Rock N' Roll McDonalds
- Holiday in Cambodia