A guy with a mic is screaming “Green Jell-O!” and flipping off a small but growing crowd around the stage at Mickie Finnz Fish House on Fremont. His backing band is playing what sounds like a taunting version of intro music on a loop. It’s like they’re saying “something is about to happen,” but a lot of folks seem pretty certain it never will and equally sure this is all an elaborate hoax. I overhear a guy behind me say, “This is what Hell’s going to be like,” to his friend before they leave.
And with that, Green Jellÿ (pronounced “green Jell-O”) has already done its job, without even taking the stage. Forerunning Punk Rock Bowling, the featured punk-metal band and masked circus intentionally annoys people while entertaining the enlightened few. As ringleader Bill Manspeaker puts it, “If you’re not drunk, you’re not going to think this is funny.” Fortunately, there are a lot of drunk people around.
It was billed as a punk-rock puppet show with few details, so a lot of people seem to have shown up without much idea what to expect, be it puppets, a band or a freak show. What we get is a sort of mixture of all three, plus a comedy act and a moshpit.
Founded in Upstate New York in the 1980s as a joke band, the group’s aim was to be the worst it could, and its name was chosen accordingly. Lime Jell-O might be the worst flavor around, but Jell-O still didn’t appreciate the homage, hence the band’s name change to Jellÿ.
Despite its aspiration for failure, Green Jellÿ still maintains a cult following, evidenced by the slam dancers chanting “Eff you!” back at the energetic Manspeaker, who demands they do so. Whether they are fans from the old MTV days or the really old Buffalo days is unclear. Songs like “The Three Little Pigs,” featuring an accompanying video starring puppets, took the group from a local act that made PB&J on their chests to an LA phenomenon. Although that fame was short-lived—there are fewer people than you’d think who want to throw pudding at a metal band—some people apparently still remember.
Whatever the source of the fanbase, it’s clear some audience members had not expected a puppet show. Drummer Ryan Pangonis’ description of the punk-rock puppet show as “a traveling circus of costumed mayhem” fits the bill a lot better. Rather than traditional dolls on strings, the so-called puppets are actual people wearing enormous masks made from thick foam rubber in the shape of various animals and people, such as, randomly, Zack de la Rocha. The heads double as protective gear for when the crowd kicks the dancing “puppets” around and they kick back, during songs with titles like “Sh*tman.”
Just as I’m beginning to think the vision of Hell from the guy who left early might be right, Cow God takes the stage. Cow God is a man dressed in Kiss-like black leather garb, wearing a gigantic rubber cow head with light-up eyes. And somehow, he makes everything a lot better, managing to play guitar and sing through his big head as hoards of people dance around him.
I’m 100 percent sure Punk Rock Bowling has never gotten as strange an introduction as it did this year. Even if Flag set Devo’s little red hats on fire and refused to play anything but New Age music, they’d be tame by Green Jellÿ standards. How punk rock is that?