@ the El Rey Theater – October 25, 2009
Jello Biafra must wake up early each morning, because he seems to get a lot done. With his role in the Dead Kennedys, the Melvins, his political campaigns, and now a new band, it was surprising for me to see him step directly off the street from a white Honda and through the front doors of the theater. Not that one would expect Biafra, of all people, to show up in a limo or sneak through the back, but because he actually did choose to expose himself to the public and eschewed the pretenses of modern music celebrities. Nobody put this reviewer’s name on the press list as a result of a clerical error somewhere along the way. Someone at the venue contacted Biafra once they realized the mistake, and Biafra himself granted this reviewer’s entry into the venue, something that would most likely never happen in the insulated world of performances.
One could tell immediately what kind of music to expect from looking at the audience. Biafra, in many ways, epitomizes a certain strain of punk rock, no less than his followers. Not a small portion of the audience donned the full punk regalia, Mohawks and leathers included, making the audience part urbanite social and part freak. In the time before his performance Biafra wandered the floor, talking with everyone who approached him. Freak or not, it didn’t seem to matter. He supplied the common thread through all of them with his music and ideals, and it was a small enough venue that it would be safe for him to open himself up to everyone without feeling overwhelmed.
The band started and Biafra walked onstage wearing a jacket and shirt made from the design of the American flag. Clearly, music was not the only thing on Biafra’s mind. He introduced every song with its intended message, expounding on how America needs reform and in what ways. He touched on the current state of Capitalism equating to feudalism, the evils of working in a cubicle for corporations, the dangers of Obama’s health care bill, and in particular, the opinion that all the former Bush administration should be charged with war crimes for using torture. He also heavily criticized San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, calling him a combination of the worst parts of Feinstein, former Governor Gray Davis, and Tom Cruise, and told people to do everything they could to prevent him from working any longer in office. He also, at one point, declared the War on Drugs a waste of time, money, and lives.
People in the mosh pit ate all this up. People flipped off the air and screamed things like “fuck the War on Drugs” before running in a circle while shoving and pushing anyone who got in their way. A performance of the classic Dead Kennedys’ song “Holiday in Cambodia” drew a huge crowd to the pit. One could see the audience members on the outskirts tossing water on the floor under the feet of people in the mosh pit. Needless to say a couple people went down.
Biafra himself, while the songs played, pantomimed little vignettes onstage that had to do with each song with the enthusiasm and energy worthy of Al Jolson. For “Holiday in Cambodia,” for example, he mimed a pacifist being forced to join the army and shoot at other people. It was the best-rehearsed skit, the song having been around for a while.
At the end of the set he delivered to everyone a message that it is possible to enact change in the world, and told everyone not to live complacently any longer, but to make as much noise in the world as possible. One can take or leave it at will, however, Biafra makes the whole concept entertaining as well as inspiring.