Concert Reviews

Review: Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine at Summit Music Hall, 12/31/13

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When the Guantanamo School of Medicine took stage, the outfit played an instrumental, almost free-jazz punk passage before Biafra bounded on to stage for "The Terror of Tinytown." For the first part of the show, Biafra wore a "blood" stained lab jacket with "UNCLE SCAM" scrawled on the back with duct tape. That was one of three layers Biafra wore during the show. No matter what album the material for this set came from, the band performed it like it was written a month ago. This imbued each song with an electrifying sense of excitement. Even the Dead Kennedys song, more familiar to most people in the crowd, got the power treatment in this show.

After "The Terror of Tinytown," Biafra graciously thanked Joy Subtraction and Git Some and then said that TSOL had put on the best show he'd seen from the band since he saw them in Denver when the Kennedys came through playing with the Frantix. While most of us didn't have that frame of reference, TSOL's set lived up to his assessment. For "New Feudalism," Biafra took off the lab coat and exposed an American flag shirt that someone had given to him in Pueblo after a spoken word show.

Guantanamo School of Medicine has three fine albums under its belt, which meant the group had plenty of material from which to draw, along with some Dead Kennedys' songs, obviously, which many of us were hoping to hear. Needless to say, nobody was disappointed when we got the first one with an altered version of "California Über Alles" with the lyrics changed to reflect recent changes.

It was so spot on and powerful, you'd have to be numb to not be swept up in the spirit of the moment. Biafra even came off the stage to crowd surf a bit at the end while still singing. Hardly any punk singers of his age and stature do this sort of thing, but with this show, Biafra showed that in terms of frontmen he has few peers. That song was followed by "Brown Lipstick Parade," one of White People and the Damage Done's best and most intense songs, and it wasn't toned down here.

Of course, Biafra took much deserved shots at the prison industrial complex, the corporatist concessions of the Obama regime, fracking and the Tea Party in between songs, but it never really seemed preachy. More to the point, the whole show proved that pretty much all of Biafra's songs from the Dead Kennedys era until now have something salient to say while not skimping on the musicality. The fact that you can't really knock any of the songs on their pure musical merit is very striking.

The set would have ended with "Pets Eat Their Master," but the band came back out for two encores without showing a sign of wear. Beginning with the horrific "The Cells That Will Not Die," the group went into "Holiday in Cambodia," and just when we were sure nothing could be added to such a strong closing, the guys came back on and treated us to "Too Drunk To Fuck," a tune entirely appropriate for New Year's Eve for some people, and transitioned from that theatrically into "Crapture." Things got done late but you just didn't care because these guys sustained the energy and brought you along for the ride.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.