By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco punk-rock icon and political gadfly Jello Biafra celebrates his 60th birthday Sunday night at the Great American Music Hall with his band the Guantanamo School of Medicine and more.
One of the Bay Area’s pioneering punk-rock figures, Biafra first came to fame as the lead singer and main songwriter for the Dead Kennedys. Started in 1978, the brash San Francisco quartet mixed surf, garage rock and rockabilly, providing a foundation for the singer’s bitingly humorous lyrics and caustic delivery on classics like “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday In Cambodia.”
The band’s string of landmark albums and EPs Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables and In God We Trust, Inc. along with the founding of the influential independent record label Alternative Tentacles helped make Biafra the DKs one of the leading lights of West Coast punk. Biafra would make headlines with a sarcastic run for San Francisco mayor, but a controversy surrounding a poster with inflammatory art by H.R. Geiger inserted in the band’s 1985 effort Frankenchrist set off a long and draining court battle that eventually led to the dissolution of the Dead Kennedys.
While he would spend a good deal of the years that followed delivering marathon politically charged spoken word performances that commented on both national and global socio-political foibles, Biafra would embark on numerous high-profile collaborations in the decades that followed. He teamed with the likes of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and Mojo Nixon and tracking classic albums with Canadian contemporaries NoMeansNo and D.O.A. in addition to recording and touring with grunge iconoclasts Melvins. However, it wasn’t until Biafra fronted the then-named Axis of Merry Evildoers at his 50th birthday concerts in 2008 that he once again was at the helm of a full-time band.
The following year, the re-christened Guantanamo School of Medicine released its debut album The Audacity of Hype to great acclaim. Anchored by the twin-ax attack of Victims Family guitarist Ralph Spight and onetime Carneyball/Mol Triffid six-stringer Kimo Ball, the group established a reputation as a ferocious live act and helped propel Biafra into a punk-rock renaissance.
Though there has been some turnover in the band’s personnel in the years since (it currently features Victims Family bassist Larry Boothroyd and Helios Creed/Chrome drummer Paul Della Pelle), Jello and the GSM has continued to tour internationally, playing festivals on both sides of the Atlantic to wide acclaim. Fan are still waiting for the band to release a follow-up to their 2013 sophomore album White People and the Damage Done, but rumor has it that Jello and company will offer up a taste of new material when they headline the singer’s 60th birthday celebration at the Great American Music Hall Sunday.
For what has been billed as “Biafra Sicks Oh!!!” on the Alternative Tentacles website, Jello and the GSM will be joined by one of Alternative Tentacles’ weirdest and most compelling bands, the bizarre and electrifying reunited group the Phantom Limbs. Offering a kinetic mix of punk, death rock and twisted cabaret anchored by lead singer Lotto Ball’s unhinged stage performances, the long dormant band reunited for its first local show in over a dozen years in 2016 and is saying it’s appearance at Jello’s birthday concert will be the group’s last live show ever. Kicking things off will be rising all-female garage/psych band the Darts, who are set to put out a new 7-inch single via AT that will be available ahead of the release date at the show.
Biafra Sicks Oh!!! with Jello Biafra and the GSM
Sunday, June 17, 7:30 p.m. $18-$20
Great American Music Hall