JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
+ GRONG GRONG
+ THE CENTRAL DELI BAND
Fowlers Live, Adelaide
Friday, May 10, 2013
By ROBERT BROKENMOUTH
First, an apology to Tab of Secret S, who I assured I would see after the gig. Jello went on too long for that, and I needed to talk about the gig with ... almost anyone. Fortunately I didn't find anyone, but Mike and Kim, much better.
So. I arrive at our jump-off point and there are Christians. Finally banned from the busy mall after about two years of fights and arguments provoked by their harangues (their favourite bit of the New Testament must be Jesus booting the moneylenders out of the temple) which resonate with 'shop and you will burn in Hell' and 'Hommasekshulls are against God'. I've never really had time to sit down and watch one of their night-long confrontations. I kind of admire their commitment, but I do despise the nature of their assault: I think we all know at least one person who is doing their best to forget Christianity and its messengers. On the other hand, where would we be without the mall's real live comedy of loony Christians versus loony anti-goddists? I'm sure the answer to that and many other questions is waiting out there on the internet.
So I wish my friend were here to lend a few merry quips to the somewhat demented tall git hollering through his loud-hailer not three feet from his target audience, or the chubby lass with the determinedly hateful gimlet eyes and the acoustic guitar. She must be one of the last bastions of the 'rock mass' we used to hear so much about in the 1970s.
And off we go down Hindley Street, past throngs of punters showily feeding themselves at the street cafes, and the even more ostentatious twats in sunglasses (yes, it's full night now) smoking flavoured smoke from hookahs, apparently a new craze. Flares keep coming back in, as do those big ol' shorts, and I keep wondering when those beanie hats with the propellor will make an appearance. I also half-heartedly wonder why the Christians aren't bellowing through their loudhailer down here, among the bikers, the tattooists, the meat and the drugs, the strip joints and the drunks. Well, that's a question that don't need an answer, but I'm sure you can get it on the internet.
So to Fowlers Live, where I scuttle for my usual corner, right near the stage, where I can see the performers and the crowd without getting deafened or surfed on.
The first band are playing as I walk in, and they're not bad at all. Good solid songs, radio friendly without being ordinary, structure, thought and passion. If you must have a comparison, they're somewhere between the Meat Puppets and the best of Dallas Crane. You know how Dallas Crane used walk on stage looking like they'd just been kicked out of the last pub in Bendigo?
This lot look like ... well, you remember that bloke at high school who deliberately got suspended when he was fourteen-and-a-half and just didn't come back? Yeah, they look like four versions of that guy 15 years on. No, I'm not insulting them - this makes their songs that much more impressive, you glance at them but you don't move on 'cause it's the songs which grab your attention.
Strong stuff. Moved, I ask a punter who they are, he tells me and I crack up. Sexual Delhi Band? No, no, no, he says, and writes down Central Deli Band, which is much funnier, producing an instant image of ... well, I'll leave that to you. I watched them to the end and you should search them out. Yes, there's merch, and at least one CD.
Now to Grong Grong. Once upon a time, as they say, there was this grotty, snarly, spiky band. The bass player was always a millimetre away from a drunken brawl and played according; the drummer was always neat, tidy and stoner sober; the guitarist was a boulder with arms and writhed against what looked like a kid's toy guitar. And the singer wore a rapist's mask. Subtlety wasn't their strong suit. At this point I s'pose I should say, 'ah, those were the days', but they weren't really.
So after some initial success, they languished. Other stuff happened, the way it does in fairy stories. Then, decades later, with considerable mistrust, most of them found themselves in a room with some vaguely familiar instruments. A couple of years later, here they are.
GG and Jello go back aways. Jello had heard their record and loved it, and made sure they supported the DK when they toured Adelaide. That gig was strange, the DK only played about an hour, the sound was rubbish and the lighting non-existent, and some of the band went to a party after where they were apparently rude to everyone and smashed someone's new expensive camera. No, the last part's hearsay, but I'm sure you can get it on the internet.
Anyhow, it's been too long since I saw GG, and ... they're unmissable right now. See, first, Charlie has got these subtle new guitars (think those shiny sparkly red lollipops your mum wouldn't let you have because she figured it'd make you run round in circles at a million miles an hour then spew down that posh girl's back) and ... they suit him and his newly developed style much better than the battered thing he used to have.
Second, Michael crawls onstage, it's hard work dragging those legs, and, legs shaking, hauls himself onto a chair. This gig he puts his mask on in front of us - but I wonder how much better he'd be without it. Charlie tunes up in a manner similar to Renestair EJ; me, Paul, Charlie, and a couple of other idiots would always turn up to Bloodloss gigs just to hear Ren tune up. Stop me if you've heard this. He'd unpack the guitar, plug it into the wah pedal and that into the speaker. Then he'd tune. And Charlie does the same thing.
Unpack guitar. Check.
Plug everything in to the lump of wood with a plugboard and a few other things nailed on. Check.
Squeeeeeallll. Waaaailll. FWWWEEEEEEYYYOOOORRRsplonk.
This goes on for a while. The bass player's texting, the drummer's smiling, Michael has his mask on.
Okay, Charlie's ready.
That's what I call skill. Jello, so ordinary you wouldn't look at him twice, stands at the other side of the stage, watching.
Then they start.
The sound stuffs his vocals up the first few songs but after a bit of abuse the sound engineer finally fixes it more or less. Michael's sax is really good, by the way, you wouldn't think it would work against Charlie's guitar, but it does.
Michael Wilczek's drumming is, as ever, impressive and an education. He's one of Adelaide's most powerful, driving drummers and everyone wants him. On these pages he was last seen in White Tiger, who would now only reform if Bob is up to it.
Nathan seems to have been in almost every band in Adelaide and it's really through him that da brudders Charlie and Michael were finally winkled out of suburbia and back in front of sweaty thrashing idiots where they belong. His bass is simple, gutsy and lackadaisically showy. His underpants tonight were a greeny, bluey, reddy swirly concoction (a bit like a sick cow's sneeze) and you don't want to know how we know but we do. I'll be having nightmares. Again.
Back to Charlie who, as far as I'm concerned, is the star of the show. Why? Cos his hands look like crippled crabs as they run up and down the plastic mother-of-pearl fretboard. Bent and distorted, Charlie must've realised he couldn't play quite as many notes as before, so now he uses his wammy bar to great, carefully chosen, effect. His choice of which chords, and which notes go where, in the old songs (this band started playing, I think, in 1982) are so distinctive that I barely recognise the songs. They may as well be new they're so extraordinary.
Unnoticed, Jello has sidled out of the door near the stage and into the crowd so he can watch Charlie. I can't see his face clearly. Bet he's nonplussed. See, if you look at GG's older songs, you can see how Charlie 'learned to play'. Forget books and banging along with old records, he clearly just picked the thing with strings up and bashed, moving his fingers quickly. Then more quickly.
But today... there's much more balance and harmony to the songs, a depth unattainable in 1984. And we're lucky 'cause we're hear to see and hear it. And see the bits of shredded pick fall on the floor. I pick up the remains of one: he's cut up a store card to make picks. Get it off the internet? Nope, not on this occasion.
And now to the meat of our show. The band come out first, Ralph Spight nearest me with a nifty stained wood ... um, guitar and a professional-looking rack. I can't remember what bands Ralph's been in but you can look them up on the internet.
They'll be good.
The drummer is Paul Della Pelle, and, among others, he's played with one of my rnr heroes, Helios Creed. Go find. Get it off the internet.
The other guitarist is another whose pedigree I have no real idea of but is clearly worth checking: Kimo Ball. And on bass, the coolest cat on the stage who, with his bare feet, comfy clothes hanging off him and slow amused smile, is the showstealer at the back of the stage. Andrew Weiss, who I believe has been here before with Rollins Band.
After farting about to get our attention they turn on a dime and crank out what is... realistically, very good but not all that intense rock. They don't need to be too intense, I guess, just damn competent (which they are), because they're the backing band to the hero of the moshies.
Jello Biafra is everything a front man needs to be: big, beguiling, and firm of purpose. He bounds out in fake-bloodstained white lab coat and medical gloves dripping gore, stamping about, mugging and grimacing, is that he reminds me of a place somewhere between - bloody hell, I cannot believe I'm writing this - Steve Martin and John Lydon. Honest injun. He's fucking hilarious, and I confess I spent most of the gig laughing my 'ass' off. I suspect the band also find the proceedings fairly amusing.
See, for those who don't understand, Jello is a political, and acts out his lyrics in a parodic mime-show not a million miles removed from Punch and Judy or a medieval Mystery Play because, well, let's face it, he can't dance for toffee because he looks like puppet on chains with two-foot links - grace ain't his forte. His performance is sophisticatedly crude, deliberately dumbed down and a delight to watch - especially in the context of a moshy of worshipping sweaty males (presumably all with bad fathers who just want Jello to give them a harsh order - like 'clean your room!' or 'eat your broccoli!'). Utterly fascinating and, dare I say it, dick-warmingly funny. Given that he orders us to 'think for yourself' on his website Jellobiafra.org, he must weary of seeing the same yearning faces and sweaty buttcracks in front of him gig after gig.
Jello is chameleonesque, yanking his face in the most grotesquely funny way along with the subject of the song. He's in one performing world, the moshy is in another. I always thought Jello should have a game show which humiliated the victim of his choice, and the victims should be required by law to attend (minimum penalty for disobedience, three years in Riker's Island). I mean, this is the man who ran for mayor of San Francisco with one of his planks being that all bankers should wear clown suits - and came a healthy and respectable third. In what? 1980? I mean, what's the moshy done this week? Got up late? Forgot to wash?
Jello gets around to removing his bloody coat and gloves down to a quilted (and fake-blood-covered) US flag jacket, plays a lot with the crowd, shoves worshippers back into the throng if they stay too long on his stage. It's real rent-a-moshy as the usual suspects flail about gormlessly, all dreads and sneakers, nose rings and you know. All that meaningless display stuff. One Twat surfs precisely to land on his feet, arms out like Christ, right in front of Jello, who waits for precisely half a second for Mr Twat to bugger off before shoving Mr Twat back into the crowd. Various items are flung onto the stage, cups, sneakers, a blind man's cane. No, really, and I'm sure I missed more. And someone found someone else's car keys and so they just had to hand them over to Jello. 'Hm,' he says, 'I do need a car just for Australia.'
Jello's down to one of his merchandise tshirts (tre uncool) and twice chucks himself on top of the heaving front row. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. After the second plunge, he emerges with a small but copiously bleeding cut near his right eye, which even after ministration by the anxious stage manager runs in a bright red streak down his face for the next few songs.
And then he's on his knees in front of Della Pelle pounding away, wipes his face strips off the merch shirt. Which is courageous. But every man over thirty-five instantly feels an affinity with the man for daring to display that fat tum! Every man over thirty-five instantly doesn't feel so bad: Jello's got one too, look!
So, topless, the man who christened himself Jello Biafra worships the god of the drums for a few minutes. And this is crucial. Here's this man completely lost in music, away with the fairy tale, and it is a beautiful, poignant moment to treasure forever.
And, ah, you know what's coming, don't you?
Yup. Of course, another Mr Twat (there's so many out there) comes a-scrambling out of the moshy like a scrawny brainless Swamp Thing, runs over to give the man a hug - from behind.
Oh, people, people, people! Jello was startled, angry at being startled and at his vulnerability so Mr Twat got roughly shoved aside (saying the same thing I've seen Rollins say onstage in similar circumstances - don't touch me) and, brushing the shove aside aside, Mr Twat scampered back to the safety of the known world ... the moshy.
And here we have the whole nub of the gig and, presumably, all of Jello's others. The moshy thinks one thing of Jello, who tries manfully (and hilariously) to overcome it, and what they want is some sort of tough-guy father figure who'll tell them what to do and they'll do it, and what Jello's saying is 'no, no, no, think for yourself'...
You know, the thing about the 6ts and 7ts (and hell, even Sesame Street) is that dreadful conceit that the ordinary pleb doesn't know what they want so we'll have to educate them. They don't think for themselves, so we have to tell them to think for themselves. Trouble is... it takes an edgamuckation to actually think for yourself. To pick the cards hidden under the table you got to know that there are cards hidden under the table. Freemasons know there's really 66 cards in every deck, you know? But really and truly-ruly, there's a huge subcontinental bunch of citizens who ... no thanks, don't want to think. Hurts my head. See, when we force children to learn, that's what teaching is. There was a really nasty idea in the UK a few years back, about letting children decide whether they want to learn or not. However, when children get past a certain age, they ain't children any more and they are allowed not to be taught or learn nuthing more if that's what they want. Cause they're adults and they're now allowed to fuck up their lives - and that's their choice. It's Darwin at work, and at this point we don't need to educate them further. Just put our feet up.
C'mon, you'll find a substantial chunk of the community retiring from books after either school or university. I met someone recently who commented that the 'education officers' they're training are going into classrooms with the attitude that they don't like reading (it's too difficult) so they figure no-one else does either, so they just get it off the internet.
So, no, I don't agree with everything the Biafran says, and I listen and read as carefully as I can. And no, I don't think punker gigs are just about 'getting the aggression out' as slammers in the pit used to say oooh, about 30 fucking years ago. First, go join the army or a rugby club, that'll get the aggression out, guaranteed, and hopefully get you injured properly. None of this slight bruise nonsense. Second, c'mon, the moshy is just so fucking old-fashioned. If those under 25s think it's cool to sneer at old fuckers, why do they keep worshipping the old punks who had a better purpose thirty odd years ago? C'mon, start something new you reactionary fuckers. I remember hating the punk uniforms when they started to appear. Oh, and get a fuckin' haircut.
Um. Well, I was like this about teenagers when I was about eleven or twelve as well. And don't get me started on what I'd do if I were in charge, just don't.
Here's the set list.
Terror of Tiny Town/ John Dillinger/ New Feudalism/ Panicland/ Barrackstar O'Bummer/ California Uber Alles/ Brown Lipstick Parade/ Hollywood Goof Disease/ Werewolves of Wall Street/ Police Truck/ Three Strikes/ Pets Eat their Master.
The first encore was Red Cell/ Holiday in Cambodia. The second, uncalled for, encore was Kill the Poor and Psychoshocker.
There's nothing to beat the sight of the moshies and most of the crowd hollering Pol! Pot! endlessly like it was some sort of cereal jingle. How much do they know about Cambodia, other than what Jello sings and it's a good place to buy guns, drugs and sex?
I guess Jello realises he's preaching - and he does way too much of that for my taste, but as the man says, it's his stage - to a lot of folk who'll lap up anything he says. Yeah! Stick it to the man! Fuck the rich! (And repeat. Etc.) But he knows he's reaching a lot more than just the moshy (who, did I mention, kinda resemble the Keystone Kops in a phone booth crossed with that scene in Aliens where they pop the hatch into the airconditioning duct and there, crawling all over themselves toward us, are ... yeah. Moshies in drag), for example, those of us in un-surfed corners who pay attention. And, despite myself, Jello makes me think. I don't always agree with the man, as I say, but ... would I go fight in Afghanistan to defend his right to say it?
Well... only if he came along as well.
If anyone out there in I94Barland is considering not seeing Jello and his Guantanomoanians, reconsider, and do it quick. This is the highest lowbrow entertainment I've had in years. I suspect he's also quite a decent bloke - certainly the overwhelming feeling at the end of the gig is affection for the man.
There's vinyl, there's CDs, there's merch.
Before I leave I pump Charlie's fin (poor fucker) and insist that Grong Grong record the songs as they now are. Then - new songs, tour and conquer the world.