Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine at Dingwalls, London on 12 August 2013.
As the appointed hour of 9.30pm slips by, the tiny, crowded Dingwalls venue in north London begins to swirl with an agitated air and calls for Jello Biafra to take to the stage.
Biafra had, the previous night, headlined the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. The contrast between the grandeur and impressive scale of the Empress Ballroom of the historic Winter Gardens and the small, dark, beer-soaked space of Camden’s canal-side venue could not have been in sharper relief. But this chance to see him at a far more intimate show was clearly seen as a scoop for fans of the punk legend who packed out the venue.
With no photo pit and only one security person to try to bring some order to the stage-diving antics of the crowd, getting good shots is both more challenging and more opportunity-rife than at a large-scale venue with strict space and time allocations for photographers.
When the former Dead Kennedys frontman appears, his love of the theatrical is immediately apparent. Dressed in a top hat and tails and using extravagant mimes, he proceeds to unpeel four different outfits during the course of the show.
Biafra digs into his classic back catalogue with an exuberant retelling of ‘California Uber Alles’ and underscores the meaning of newer songs with sometimes lengthy, but always compelling introductions. The title track of his new album ‘White People And The Damage Done’ is just one of many from the record, making this a clear Guantanamo School Of Medicine showcase rather than a nostalgia show.
As well as song introductions, Biafra gives the audience advice on a plethora of subjects, from how to stay physically safe at the front of a punk show, to the importance of being informed about the international issue of fracking.
The campaign supporting US soldier Bradley Manning (who, at the time of writing, is still awaiting sentencing after being convicted of leaking government information) is explicitly brought to the attention of the audience with a stall providing literature on the case, a banner hung behind the band’s drummer and Jello himself talking about the conviction and sporting a t-shirt highlighting the issue at one point.
Other songs include ‘Burgers of Wrath’ and ‘Shock-U-Py’, the latter being a tribute to the Occupy movement.
Biafra encourages his fans to take action rather than feel depressed by the string of political and social issues he raises. Referring to his fondness for pranks, humour and theatrics as a part of protest, he asserts that the digital age means a new era of “sabotage on the job”.
The night has been an exuberant and sweaty one. At the beginning of the evening, I was speaking to someone who said he and his friend had waited 27 years to experience Jello live. I didn’t see them at the end to ask their verdict…but I suspect, even after all that build up, they really couldn’t have been too disappointed in seeing a still dynamic and passionate punk legend at such close range.
The whole set here:
Review and photography by Imelda Michalczyk on 12 August 2013, London.