Jello Biafra swaps dissidence for Mardi Gras spirit

By: Seth Mattei


Jello Biafra, the singer/activist who founded the legendary punk band, Dead Kennedys, has channeled and accumulated a wealth of influence in the past 35 years as both a performer and a music fan, which all culminated in a bizarre, yet hypnotic stage show on March 2, the Sunday before Mardi Gras, with Biafra fronting a band made up of (mostly) local musicians called the Raunch and Soul All-Stars, playing New Orleans-themed songs to a packed house at Siberia, located at 2227 St. Claude Ave.



Reportedly started as a dare by Dash Rip Rock singer/guitarist Bill Davis and Cowboy Mouth (and ex-Dash Rip Rock) drummer/vocalist Fred LeBlanc, Jello Biafra and the Raunch and Soul All-Stars played their first show at Fulton Street’s 12 Bar in May of 2011. The 12-piece band was a little rough around the edges, but they pulled off an inspired performance and decided to do it again this year for Mardi Gras.



Guitarist Pepper Keenan, of the much-lauded local metal band Down, was absent this time around due to the latter band’s touring obligations. He was replaced by Kimo Ball, of Biafra’s regular band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Although he’s not a local, Ball’s thrashy guitar style melded with Davis’s more roots-rock approach similarly to the way Keenan’s did almost three years ago. The other major line-up difference was that LeBlanc was replaced by Dash Rip Rock drummer Kyle Melancon, although LeBlanc sat in for about a quarter of the band’s set.


Biafra and the Raunch and Soul All-Stars share a soulful moment.

Biafra and the Raunch and Soul All-Stars share a soulful moment.


Biafra gyrated and danced in his possessed Jerry Lee Lewis-meets-Johnny Rotten fashion, impressively commanding his band through a barrage of material and blending R&B, soul and garage rock with jaw-dropping efficiency. The nearly two-hour set featured more than 20 songs, ranging from obvious picks, like the traditional “House of the Rising Sun” and “Workin’ in a Coal Mine” to more obscure songs, such as local alt-rock pioneer Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok” and Rockin’ Sidney’s zydeco number, “Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot.” Biafra even led the audience through the “na na na na na” chant of “Land of a Thousand Dances,” which he noted was made famous by Wilson Pickett, but written by Baton Rouge native Chris Kenner.



“This is my first Mardi Gras,” Biafra announced from the stage, “and I was informed when I got here that Quintron has honored me with the title of Grand Marshall of the 9th Ward Marching Band, which means that I have to march for five miles tomorrow!” Always hyper-opinionated, Biafra steered clear of politics for much of the show, but couldn’t avoid leading the crowd in an applause of the American public’s acceptance of gay rights, while taking jabs at public figures like NFL player Tim Tebow and “the family values Nazis.” The show was otherwise jovial and celebratory, an out-of-towner’s appropriate interpretation of New Orleans’ innovative music culture, helped along more than a little by a diverse crew of top-notch local musicians, some of whom have been his friends for decades.



Jello arrived on stage wearing a red tuxedo, complete with a matching bowler hat and sunglasses. The hat, glasses and jacket were soon gone, and by mid-set he was so drenched in sweat that he looked like he’d been doused with a few gallons of water. When alto saxophonist Chris Klein picked up a flute and played a wild free jazz solo into Biafra’s microphone, the crowd went wild. The band ended with Fats Domino’s “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” Outside after the show, Josh Pineda, bassist for local hardcore/punk band, the Vapo-Rats remarked, “Nobody in the eighties could say that they got to see Jello Biafra play jazz in New Orleans.”




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