December 17, 2015
Dallas, TX USA
Review by David DiPietro
Photos by Co Dao
Dead Kennedys Return To Shock The Monkey
In the early 80s, the Dead Kennedys were every bit as infamous in America as the Sex Pistols had been in the U.K. in the 70's. The difference was the Pistols' nihilism made them feared by the establishment, but the Dead Kennedys were a nuisance for a different reason: Their fierce intelligence. Their combination of vitriolic and confrontational left-wing lyrics, with stripped-down, high-speed punk songs, and a near toxic musical stew that combines elements, of hardcore, psychedelia, surf and rockabilly is truly unique.
All of these elements were on full display Friday night at Gas Monkey Bar N' Grill and all I can say is I am very glad I did not boycott the show because of the absence of original singer, Jello Biafra, as I had intended.
This was a different Gas Monkey, across the parking lot from Gas Monkey Live, where I reviewed a Jane's Addictionconcert last month and clearly this is the superior concert venue of the two. The concert was out on the patio in back, on a only slightly crisp and perfect December evening and the crowd of about 400 were whipped into a frenzy upon the opening drum notes of super-fast, "Forward to Death." If you are not familiar with the Dead Kennedys, they are difficult to sum up. But let's just say their songs lampoon the decay of modern society and the greed of government and big business. That the band's lyrical sentiments ring true only makes the band's contribution to music more important.
Jello Biafra's replacement, Ron Greer, displayed some traditional DK's characteristics and made fun of some of the audience (sarcastic) and social media, but he for the most part, steered clear of Biafra's heavy handedness politically. The songs themselves, did all the talking in that regard. "Winnebego Warrior" went into a careening "Police Truck," which sounded like a Ventures' song played at 78 R.P.M. At one point during the tune, Ray, the guitarist, dropped his pick onto the floor in front of the stage. I picked it up and was about to put it in my pocket, when he looked at me frantically with a look that said, "I need that!" I handed the pick back to him and he did not miss a note.
A slam pit immediately ensued up front and then stage diving bodies started flying through the air. I can't say the slam 'n dive was quite as intense as DK's shows at Studio D in 1982, but the crowd gave it a good effort. "Buzzbomb" threw proceedings into high gear, propelled by the martial drumming of Darren Peligro. If anything, Peligro is in finer physical shape and even more powerful than he was in the Dead Kennedys 81-85 heyday.
The hilarious, "Let's Lynch The Landlord" sounded even better than it does on the band's debut, with vocalist Greer spitting out the song's sarcastic lyrics: "He says, 'I'm doubling the rent because the building's condemned, you're gonna help me buy City Hall'." Before launching into a pummeling "Jock O Rama," (a delightful ditty about a high school quarterback who suffers a broken back on the field) Greer polled the Dallas audience on how many here have a favorite sports team. This Philadelphia Eagles fan raised his hand and looked down at the ground in embarrassment. And not just because of their record. "Kill the Poor" rocked in mock-Republican fashion and it must be said at this point, that not only was guitarist East Bay Ray's playing spot-on (again, no beers in sight), but he is amazingly, looking every inch the debonair rock star these days, which is something I would have thought impossible in 1982. The guy deserves it at this point.
An riveting update of "MTV Get off the Air' followed. On this night it was entitled, "MP3 Get off the Web," but the song remains the same; a nod to music being basically worthless in 2015 due to I-profiteering. I found it oddly ironic that many in the audience stood transfixed, filming on their masturbatory cell phones. I had never seen "Moon Over Marin" performed live and it sounded great, the guitar harmonics drifting over the nippy Dallas night. The super-speedy, "Nazi Punk Fuck Off," sent the Gas Monkey crowd into new levels of insanity with even more stage diving and slamming galore. The song may hold a special meaning for Dallas and may have even been written about it, as DFW had a rabid and notorious skinhead scene at hardcore shows in the early 80's. Regardless, the song is an anti-conformity anthem.
The band's debut single, "California Uber Alles" (about the campaign of Jerry Brown in 1980) was concise and solid, but the following track, "Bleed For Me," was the highlight of the night. It has always been a favorite and tonight they just knocked it out of the park, to make another jock-o rama sports reference. Seething with sarcasm, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" closed out the set proper and had the entire crowd singing along. This bought a wry smile to the face of bassist, Klaus Fluoride, who was in fine form on his 1978 blue Fender Precision DK bass.
After exiting the stage briefly to take a breather, the Dead Kennedys returned to the stage with one of their signature cuts, "Holiday In Cambodia." A classic track, that I first heard on the Burning Ambitions punk compilation in 1982, it's searing irony encompasses all of the band's trademarks in one terrific tune and the frenetic psycho-tribalism of the tune got extra effort tonight. "Chemical Warfare" closed the night out and was at least 10 miles an hour faster than the 1980 version. And that is speeding folks.
I am old. I may likely have been the only one at this show to have seen the original band 33 years ago. But despite Biafra's absence, they are still as relevant now as they were during the Reagan administration. There is a musical and social need for the Dead Kennedys in 2015.
One reason this is true, is that America will never cease to get more and more corrupt.