The great undead

Jeff Noon is happy to be lectured by ex-Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra talks. He talked and talked for three and a half hours, with only a short break, at the Sallis Benney Theatre, Brighton. Having disbanded the loud, raucous and fiercely political punk of the Dead Kennedys in 1986, he now channels all that energy and compassion into words alone.

Compassion? From the man whose cover artwork provoked a legal charge of "distributing harmful matter to minors?" Ah, but that's the point. That's exactly what he's doing, distributing harmful material. OK, so his audience is older now, but this stuff has to be heard. OK then, harmful to whom? To the vast unfeeling monster of the corporate state.

Jello Biafra has the goods - the statistics, facts, true-life confessions, newspaper reports and plenty of jokes to keep it moving. He talks about the new crime of "driving while black", about TV's real-life copumentaries - "Catch that drugpusher!" At one point, he holds up a cover of Time magazine and reads out the headline: "Music and films: are they killing the American soul?" He pauses, then replies: "I certainly hope so."

For Biafra, America, and all the free world, has two souls: the corporate one, and the one the people themselves keep in their hearts. This is the true soul, the independent soul, the soul of the underdog. And this is where the compassion of Biafra's performance comes from. He fights back with thousands of words, against the "Buy more stuff!" culture. He refers to the Nike logo as the "swooshtika". A member of the audience buys him a can of Coca-Cola. As though picking up a diseased rat, he moves the can aside.

With Jello, there's no nostalgia. Even the moving tales of his childhood, and of being taken over by music serve only to get the current message across.

Biggest cheer of the night? When he told us he'd refused to let Levi's use the Dead Kennedys song Holiday in Cambodia for an advert. Damn right! And you know what? With his passionate celebration of all that remains free, Jello's a truer American than Levi's Man will ever be.

The GuardianTramp

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