New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: jello biafra

Saluting the Most Prophetic – and Persecuted – American Band of All Time

Today, on the nation’s birthday, what would be more appropriate than a shout out to the best rock band this country’s ever produced? In the forty-plus years since the Dead Kennedys released their debut album, pretty much all of frontman Jello Biafra‘s dire dystopic scenarios have been facilitated by digital technology in the hands of fascists. Seriously – does anybody really think “trace and track” has the slightest thing to do with public health?

What happened to the DKs was an embarrassment to this nation. Hounded by the right wing, they were put on trial on obscenity charges for including world-famous artist H.R. Giger‘s painting Penis Landscape as a poster along with their classic 1985 Frankenchrist lp. The judge in charge eventually dismisssed the case, but by then the damage was done: the band were broke and their career was over. To add insult to injury, Biafra’s bandmates later sued him for control of the group’s recorded output…and won. Biafra, undeterred, has gone on to lead numerous projects while running his improbably successful label, Alternative Tentacles Records and releasing several prophetic spoken-word albums as well.

Last year, a trio of field recordings of DKs concerts were issued as a triple live album streaming at Spotify. The first, Skateboard Party, a 1983 recording immediately predating the band’s Plastic Surgery Disasters album, was widely available on vinyl in the 80s. The Paradiso album is slightly earlier vintage, from close to the low point of the group’s career, such that there was one. The last of the three, The Farm is peak-era DKs, packed with Frankenchrist material. Obviously, the band never originally intended to release any of these, but even as they dodge stage-divers and battle sonic issues, they are a force of nature.

Although the recording quality has been digitally tweaked, it’s obvious that Skateboard Party was made with a walkman recorder that couldn’t handle the show volume. The set list is a mixed bag. The early part of is all hardcore punk material that’s so fast it’s impossible to figure out what Biafra is saying – other than his priceless between-song banter. East Bay Ray’s trebly, reverb-drenched guitar-torturing is every bit as evil as on the Plastic Surgery Disasters recordings, especially the creepy Trust Your Mechanic, a prophetic assessment of what Big Pharma would do as the Reaganites demolished government oversight.

The rhythm section snaps and crackles, bassist Klaus Flouride higher in the mix as the show goes on. Biafra’s call for audience requests is spot-on, if you know their songs. What a hilariously woke band these guys were! Biafra addresses police brutality in the spy movie-ish Police Truck; reminds that political prisoners exist here at home as well in places like Russia; and pokes merciless fun at phony outdoorsmen, tv preachers and every right wing authoritarian within earshot.

Hardcore didn’t suit this band either lyrically or politically – since so many of those bands were Reaganites or even neo-Nazis – and the Paradiso set has some of that as well. But it also has a menacingly psychedelic take of I Am the Owl, a painfully acute look at deep-state and agent provocateur evil, which the band revisit a little later with similar results in the anti-violence anthem Riot. Ray’s nails-down-the-blackboard guitar on this concert’s version of Police Truck is savage even by this band’s standards. And Bleed For Me has taken on more macabre resonance in the time since Dick Cheney and his sympathizers legalized torture in the name of blood-for-oil.

Drummer DH Peligro’s mom introduces the band for the Farm set: it sounds like a monitor mix and is the best of the three recordings. The quasi-ghoulabilly anti-vigilante tune Goons of Hazzard is a strong opener. This Could Be Anywhere, a searing portrait of suburban atomization, has only gained relevance in the past few months; this version is unexpectedly short. Soup Is Good Food is especially ghoulish; the surreal A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch connects the dots between cultural imperialism and far more lethal kinds.

Both the excoriating noise of Forest Fire and the drifting, corrosive sarcasm of Moon Over Marin remind how eclectic the band’s sound had grown by the mid-80s. They thumb their nose at macho redneck culture again with Jock-O-Rama, and little later, in MTV Get Off the Air, they give the finger to the decade’s biggest mass-media music influencer.

The three albums also contain also multiple takes of several DKs classics including the chromatically searing anti-imperialist broadside Holiday in Cambodia – which Pepsi once tried to license for a commercial! – and the immortal Too Drunk to Fuck, which became the #1 single of the year in Finland.

How ironic that the greatest punk rock band of all time would be American.

Jamie Kilstein Brings His Hilarious, Spot-On Spoofs and Fearless Political Rock to the East Village

Jamie Kilstein is the Jello Biafra of jamband rock. He’s fearless, he’s funny, and he calls bullshit on just about every every corporate-sponsored lie and right-wing myth out there. On one hand, making fun of Republicans is like shooting fish in a barrel. On the other, Kilstein’s critique goes far deeper than simply the horror-stricken thought that barring the unforeseen, Donald Trump will be our next President. Together with his Citizen Radio co-founder Allison Kilkenny, Kilstein has a new book, Newsfail: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will. He’s also got a LMFAO debut album, A Bit Much – with his band the Agenda, streaming at Spotify – and a weekly Wednesday 6 PM residency this month at Sidewalk.

The greatest pitfall in writing political songs is that it’s easy to let yourself get strident, or doctrinaire, to start believing your own bullshit. Preaching to the converted never did anything to change the world: it’s the people beyond the amen choir that you have to reach, and Kilstein does it with the kind of machinegunning barrage of one-liners that he honed in standup comedy. He leaves no stone unturned, no target standing: the NRA, the banksters, racists dressed in both Klan garb and business suits all get the bozack. On one hand, Kilstein hardly sugarcoats anything: his jokes can be awfully grim. On the other hand, this isn’t just the funniest album of the year, it might be the funniest album of the last few years. And is it ever relevant. And even the music is good! Kilstein distinguishes himself as as funky and fluent guitarist, with a solid band – guitarist Nick Phaneuf, bassist Greg Glasson, drummer Joe Magistro and cellist Jane Scarpantoni – behind him.

There’s an amusing video of the album’s opening track, Fuck the NRA, up on the front page of Kilstein’s site.  Over a purposeful hard funk backdrop, Kilstein speedraps both sides of a hilarious if sadly accurate dialogue about gun violence: “The Constitution didn’t say shit about your using Glocks to mow down Black teenagers ‘cause you’re afraid of anything not wearing a Klan outfit…you’re Steven Segall in real life, have you ever seen that guy run in real life, it’s terrible!”

Tiny Humans is closer to Matthew Grimm doing a spoof of early 90s open-chord indie rock. On one level, it’s a black-humor response in defense of those of us who’ve chosen not to have kids. On the other hand, the subtext is that if we don’t get global warming under control, those of us of childrearing age will be the last old people on the planet…if we make it that far.

With the next track, War, Kilstein goes back to mile-a-minute spoken word over a blisteringly noisy psych-punk-metal backdrop, akin to Jello Biafra right after the Dead Kennedys got finished off by the PMRC. It’s a spot-on, sarcastic look at American exceptionalism and the demonization of Muslims. Like the two guys who, after the Boston bombing, got fingered by some idiot and subsequently pulled off a plane for speaking Arabic, which, as Kilstein puts it, “doesn’t sound like Blake Shelton lyrics.”

Every Country Song Ever makes fun of New Nashville warmongering: “I found freedom on 9/11, when the Iraqis flew into Tower 7 – I read it!” Kilstein’s befuddled narrator crows. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell takes a shot at homophobia, from the opposition to gay marriage, to Bible-bangers quoting scripture: it’s Kilstein at his quotable best, and there’s even a good bluesmetal guitar solo at the end.

The surprisingly subtle Nerd Love takes a poke at both cliched corporate singer-songwriters and film geeks. Scared White Boy Blues is even funnier as both anti-racist broadside and parody of lame white funk: the backing vocals are priceless. Kilstein returns to rapidfire spoken word over slinky no wave guitar with This Is NYC, which connects the dots between the sweatshop economy, gentrification and homelessness, among other issues. Then, with the swaying, Hendrix-inspired JFC, he goes after the anti-choice mob.

Catcall is pretty hilarious, a funky tune that offers karmic payback for would-be macho dudes who harass women. Kilstein ramps up the jokes about male insecurity with the savagely funny How Not to Be a Dick: “Male Presidents have bombed the shit out of the Middle East and don’t have their periods as an excuse – they’re just fucking sociopaths.” The final track is the suspiciously low-key Maniac, possibly a spoof of PC hippie pop.  Most comedy albums you hear once and that’s all you really need: this one stands up to repeated listening. It’s a good bet that Kilstein is twice as funny live.

Tuneful, Noisy Intensity from Millsted

Millsted are way more tuneful and interesting than you’d expect a band who unassumingly call themselves “noise hardcore punk” to be. They’ve got a new album, Harlem – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show at Bowery Electric at 9:45 on July 18.

The album’s opening track, Perfume begins with a squall of icy high feedback and sheets of reverb, then Pete Belloli’s machinegun drums kick in along with the menacing, chromatic stomp from Christopher Carambot and Robert Dume’s guitars. It builds to a long, raging tremolo-picked peak that brings to mind Noir Desir or some of Jello Biafra’s more metal-flavored projects. Frontman Kelvin Uffre delivers a literally explosive ending before bassist Samuel Fernandez winds it out with a creepy little solo riff.

They keep the chromatic intensity going with Coyote, veering between a biting stadium rock pulse and a noisier, sideswiping sound. Benghazi is slow and deliciously abrasive in a vintage Live Skull/peak-era Sonic Youth vein, with twin reverb-drenched guitar lines that disintegrate into a skin-peeling of eerie, chilly textures.

The album’s best song, Televangelist brings back an uneasy, hammering pulse, built around murderously direct East Bay Ray-style horror-surf riffage that spirals out in acidic sheets of reverb, hits a misterioso interlude and then rises again. Raunchula opens with screechy feedback and then hammers along with SY-ish downstroke guitar: the way the two guitarists pair off midway through, one adding a funky edge, the other wailing up and down on the strings, is a cool touch.

Las Casas is a characteristically assaultive mashup of hardcore, prog and noiserock, ending with a nonchalantly savage pickslide. The album’s longest track, Seafoam Lovers, doesn’t mesh. The long drony outro is cool, but it feels like the band is just phoning it in up to there – New Order ripoffs are obviously not their thing. The rampaging, cumulo-nimbus closing track, Gypsy brings a headbanging focus. We need more good, loud, uncompromising bands like Millsted. Maybe the best thing about this album is that it’s available on transparent vinyl: a sound mix as rich as this deserves it.

Old Punk Rockers Never Die

Over the course of their colorful 35-year career, Canadian punk icon Joe Keithley and his band DOA have never lost sight of their populist politics or their sense of humor. Among other achievements, DOA had the distinction of being the band on Jello Biafra’s corrosively seminal 1991 ep Full Metal Jackoff, the Bush I era dissection of rightwing divide-and-conquer politics which remains as spot-on accurate today as it was then. And they’ve got a brand-new album, We Come In Peace, out on Keithley’s DIY label Sudden Death Records which shows that they may be bloodied but hardly unbowed after all these years. The songs are catchy, tight and surprisingly eclectic, Keithley still sings with a gob in his throat and has nothing but contempt for the ruling classes and their collaborators.

The opening track, He’s Got a Gun kicks off with a nasty pickslide, imagining what happens when a Tea Partier goes postal. It’s classic tuneful oldschool punk, guitar wailing all the way through the chorus as the bass goes up and hits the highs, hard, with a cruelly funny ending. Boneyard, featuring Hugh Dillon is a ghoulish, lickety-split galloping Motorhead-style riff-rocker, while Dirty Bastards, with its bagpipes (?!?) is a solidarity march, sort of a more authentic version of what Big Country was going for back in the day. Built around a vintage Euro-siren hook, Do You Wanna taunts would-be right-wingers. Bloodied but Unbowed (the title track to their well-loved 1983 lp) is just as catchy and perceptive as it was then: “I see cameras always being used, I see brand-new laws as they tighten the noose, I see freedom disappearing, I see Patriots [meaning US long-range missiles] rising…”

Bring Out Your Dead has a tongue-in-cheek, metaphorically loaded zombie theme and an unexpected slide guitar solo. They speed up the Beatles’ Revolution (and give the lyrics a bit of a needed update), cover Toxic Reasons’ War Hero as Subhumans-style punk reggae and return to reggae a little later with the considerably mellower Walk Through This World, referencing the Clash version of Bankrobber. We Occupy, a timely ska-punk anthem, is a duet between Keithley and Jello Biafra; with its call-and-response vocals, Who the Hell has a Sham 69-ish vibe, while Lost Souls echoes Social Distortion with its semi-acoustic intro, Rhodes piano and anthemic grandeur, and Man With No Name ventures into ghoulabilly territory. The album ends with a new acoustic version of General Strike, a well-loved track from their 1985 album Let’s Wreck The Party. Not a single bad song here: they mean it, man. Songs of freedom to sing (and drink) along to as the revolution makes its way across the ocean from Syria and Greece.