What is this whirlwind known as Jello Biafra?
The helium voiced, mercurial punk rock legend who found fame with the classic rush of the Dead Kennedys has not stopped pouring his acidic and darkly humorous vitriol at a world gone mad for decades.
Here he is tonight on stage at Rebellion festival with a crack band dealing out those quixotic and slightly warped rushes of sound that have been one of his staples for years. As he noted in his in conversation the night before he has always in love with the gonzoid noise since his youth tuning into oddball radio stations or hanging around with a clutch of long hairs in Boulder Colorado and getting immersed in the vibrant underground.
The Stooges, Zappa, Beefheart, surf rock and the cast of glorious freaks informed his teenage mind and eventually his music and, perhaps, the greatest American punk rock band of them all, the Dead Kennedys.
The band were, of course, one of the most political bands of their generation but this was not a hectoring cliche or a manifesto set to music – thankfully they brought the poetry and the humour to the message and their surreal music and word flow made for some great music that carried the message for them.
These days Jello is the wandering activist with a razor sharp intellect tearing into the American nightmare that is Donald Trump or the accompanying collapse into right wing polarisation of the modern times. Sometimes it feels like Jello is the last man standing howling at the moon (over marin…) and yet he is so damn effective. He still has the tunes in a set culled from Dead Kennedys, Lard and his own current Guantanamo Bay project in a blitzkrieg rush of punk rock that retains its edge and fury and is not watered down by decades of exhaustion.
Jello seems sprightlier than ever : the showman, the shaman, the preacherman – he talks a lot, an awful lot but he never gets boring – and that’s a real skill. As the songs end abruptly he picks up on the beat – piling into Trump again, tearing into the monolithic machine that is eating up the souls of humanity but he makes it entrancing before crashing back into one of those classic missives.
The current Guantanamo Bay project is, arguably, his best music since the DKs with all the quirks and thrill noise in place. It’s loud and invigorating and as the frontman flues across the stage tearing down statues it’s hard to believe that he is a decade older than Nigel Farage dealing a very different message than the new post politician, non experts who clutter up the modern political debate.
Even if he was singing about nothing he would still be engaging, the fact that he can still be arsed is invigorating enough but it’s also thrilling that the music can still match the message.