Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine
The Temptress, New York, May 28
by Eric Davidson

This soiree was on a boat on a nice late spring night (part of the “Rocks Off” summer concert series in the Hudson River harbor on the west side of Manhattan). So I could’ve been watching Christopher Cross and I would’ve had a good time. Actually, Cross is kind of boat cruise music. Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, not so much. Unless that boat is tossing on waves in front of naval ships, a high school prom outing, and the Statue of Liberty, as an affront to what has become of our representative democracy. Which, come to think of it, is just what occurred last Friday night.

Apparently, Iraq Veterans Against the War, who sponsored this politically minded mini-fest, passed out fliers about the show all day Thursday on Times Square, with a message that—this being Fleet Week in NYC—all enlisted men and women could come to the boat show for free. Biafra and the show’s promoter told me that the volunteers received mostly well wishes and even a few hugs and promises to be at the show. Then, come Friday morning, a few cryptic emails came in from some soldiers saying that their higher-ups were ordering them not to go. That seemed believable looking at the crowd, unless enlisted men now bar-hop during Fleet Week wearing 23-year-old Crass, Minor Threat, and Nausea t-shirts, hand-in-hand with girlfriends with plaid pants and suspenders. Yes, it was that kind of crowd. And aside from the occasional night out at Crash Mansion, one wonders where these ’core folks are at the rest of the year, because I don’t see them at modern punk shows. (Hey guys, the Black Lips are leftists too, y’know.) My girlfriend and I sat there truly believing we’d entered some Wonka-like time-traveling boat and were hanging out at Cleveland’s Phantasy Nite Club in 1987.

The dull opening bands didn’t change that feeling much, except they did seem about 23 years slower than our hardcore matinee memories. Former Avail lead singer Tim Barry fit right into the intentions of the show’s coordinators, having gone the yearning acoustic troubadour route that suits his working-man Springsteen-on-DRI dented dreams quite well.

But definitely do not blame Jello Biafra and his latest cohorts for anything other than whipping heads back and finally getting a huge mosh-pit revival going mad at the amount of energy such punk vets still flail! (The band consisted of former members of Victim’s Family and the Mol Triffid.) Biafra’s energy and vocal Kamikaze dives were still inspiringly intense.

From the first tune—with Biafra coming out in a doctor’s white coat and blood-dripping rubber gloves—the band kicked hard through an hour-plus set of some of the best Dead Kennedy tunes (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Holiday in Cambodia,” and “California Uber Alles,” new lyrics about Arnold Schwarzenegger in tow), a few from the new GSofM album, and a couple other recent Jello-related songs. “Victory Stinks,” especially raised sonic and sentimental ire, especially impressive considering it’s more mid-tempo thud (compared to most of the School’s songs). Soon Biafra whipped off the doctor’s coat in favor of an American flag shirt (then ripped that off for a IVAW tee) and political screeds that dripped with the patented Biafra sarcasm and statistics that hold allegiance to no one.

Speaking of which, I learned this night, among other things, that the amount of veterans who commit suicide in one year is larger than the number of Americans killed in the Iraq War so far. The IVAW and the couple of other leftist veteran support groups that helped out and had tables set up throughout the boat also passed the word that they would not be allowed to lower their banner on the sides of the boat—even though the banner apparently only read “Support Our Troops.” These kind of wavering conspiracies and straight-up informed and passionate between-band speeches that the organizers (some veterans themselves) gave were the focus of the night. Though the surprisingly sweaty wallop of Biafra and the Guantanamo guys—and drinking on a boat for three-plus hours—made focus tough at times.

Chrome Cranks
The Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, May 29
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Having previously witnessed the Chrome Cranks’ knockout comeback, I had little hesitation in deciding whether or not to go back for round two. These New York vets had blown off the dust from their cache of workdog blues with gale force, as though they had been just sitting around stewing for the past decade. But comfortability can breed complacency so what would another year and a couple more gigs (they also played the Cake Shop the night before) bring?

But first, opener Thalia Zedek (a former member of Live Skull and Come as well as a solo artist) and her cadre stirred up a stormy squall that veered between moody reticence and high-spirited tumult. Zedek works in subtlety, and what was particularly captivating was the natural melding between her players as violin, keys and trumpet were swept up in the swell.

As for the headliners, the Chrome Cranks didn’t waste any time limbering up, instead hitting below the belt from the get-go with “Lost Time Blues.” Seconds in, the band—drummer Bob Bert, guitarist William Weber, bassist Jerry Teel, and guitarist and lead yowler Peter Aaron—already exhibited the kind of spitfire that characterized last year’s show. This time, though, they also unveiled some new material as well. But those songs certainly matched the vitriol of their past catalog, as I couldn't differentiate between the cuts I hadn’t heard before and others which have simply gotten lost amongst the cogs of my memory.

Leave it to Aaron, though, to outdo himself. While bashing through such scuzzy wonders as “Hot Blonde Cocktail” and “Desperate Friend,” he cavorted with little restrain, ending up on a barstool and out amongst the crowd in due time. He had the same look in his eye that I’d seen before—part challenge and part steely focus—hellbent on exorcising that demon rock & roll from his gut. Taken as a whole, there was a brute force to the show culled from both pure volume and the utter lack of between-song niceties. Indeed, such lean intensity ensured this wasn’t just another weekend diversion. As such, the closing jam, with Zedek and openers Clockwork Mercury joining the Cranks on stage, seemed like the kind of contrivance contradictory to the Chrome Cranks’ MO. It wasn’t particularly offensive, but the bombast kind of loosened the firm grasp on the crowd’s attention the band had held earlier. Still, it’s a minor quibble against a band for whom my esteem grows every time I hear them.