Thursday, November 03, 2005

Jello Biafra and the Melvins at the Croatian Cultural Centre, Vancouver

There was a Noam Chomsky article on Znet shortly after 9/11 where he talked about how actions like the WTC attack would only benefit extremists, on either side. By creating a political climate of violence, fear, and oppression, the most dictatorial, demagoguic, R-complex-manipulating rulers would rise to dominate and guide the masses into greater and greater acts of destruction and hatred. No kidding. Somehow fitting, then, that Jello Biafra (who himself is a sort of extremist, tho' of the best possible stripe) should resurrect himself as a singer and get to touring again in these dark days; his particular brand of politicized frenzy seemed somewhat ill-suited to Clinton's America -- he only needed to speak to people back then -- but is the perfect counterpoint to Bush; it's like he only ever needs to really come out of the coffin when there's a Republican warmonger in power. Baldspot and slight paunch (I should talk) notwithstanding, he gave a performance as manic and passionate as when I saw him in 1984, on the Fall of Canada tour at the York Theatre on Commercial Drive (pic from that gig here), with that other backing band he had back then... I'm not exactly glad that it turns out things are no better, politically, than they were under Reagan (best t-shirt of the night, glimpsed in the mosh pit: "Punk's Not Dead -- But Reagan is!"), but it was nice to see that the man hasn't lost his edge, even if he initially briefly reminded me (sorry, Jello) of William Shatner...

Anyhow, as for the music... The Melvins, after a brief set where they got to be their slow, heavy, intense selves -- truly a great live band -- donned ski masks and totally subordinated themselves to Mr. Boucher's mania, doing a mixture of their collaborations ("Yuppie Cadillac," "McGruff," "Caped Crusader," "The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism") and old classics ("Chemical Warfare," "I am the Owl," and the updated, Schwarzenegger-dissing "California Uber Alles"). Turns out that, Cold War references aside, "When Ya Get Drafted" is more relevant now than when it was written, and "Bleed for Me" can be nicely updated, we discover, to encapsulate current events (after ranting about how America has gone into the concentration camp business, Jello offered the modified line, "so what's ten million dead/ if it's putting down the Muslims" -- changed from "if it's keeping out the Russians.") In frenzied mime, Jello illustrated everything from customs agents searching through your underwear to terrified prisoners being fitted with hoods and flown to Allah-knows-where. He splashed and spit water on the sweating moshers from time to time, showed concern for the people being crushed against the barriers at the front (and apologized that the barriers were there at all) and speechified between songs about how we need to pressure our politicians into providing haven for draft dodgers, should the need come. If financial reasons played a role in getting Jello to tour again, given the destruction wrought by the DK's in their lawsuits against him, there was no trace in his performance that he felt he was betraying anything he stands for -- he seemed to believe utterly in what he was doing, and the mood wasn't one so much of punk nostalgia (which Jello has decried) but a living, breathing, and very current phenomenon -- punk survival.

Tho' really -- one does wonder, given how adamant he was against touring with the DKs, why Jello is suddenly okay singing the same songs with someone else... but I guess we'll let that slide.

Unexpected treat of the night: Jello dropped an early reference to how there would be no "Wesley Willis headbutts" (due to the barrier) and later did as one of his two encores (the other being "Holiday in Cambodia," of course) a cover of "Rock and Roll McDonalds." Wish my buddy Mel had been there -- she actually received a Willis headbutt once upon a time ("he was screaming in my face -- it was pretty scary!").

Best DOA tune: "2+2." (What the hell did Randy Rampage do when he wasn't in DOA, other than that brief Annihilator thing? Could he have ever done anything but play rock and roll? Has he had a straight job in his life? Who hired him for it?) (By the way, whoever said Chuck Biscuits was back with the band was wrong...).

My fame whore moment -- approaching Rob Wright and telling him that as much as I appreciated his recommendation (made when last I approached him at Nomeansno's Mesa Luna show to ask him his favourite book) I simply could not make it through Ulysses, though I did try again. (He advised me the next time I try to take two shots of whiskey before I start and then two more each page). Y'all know they have a gig in Langley comin' up again, right?

Anyhow, I had my own personal small dark cloud hanging over the night (which will go unblogged), but it's nothing compared to the dark cloud hanging over the whole of America right now, and it was good to see Jello shoot a few holes in said overhang and let a bit of light in; America needs people like him, and somehow it seems to me he can do more good as a singer than as a member of the Green Party... Maybe I'm wrong.

Fantasy of the night: Jello should run for office in California again and write a fourth and final version of "California Uber Alles" where he sings about himself... A sort of updated "What if he wins?" thing...

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