Dead KennedysI Love Live Events @ Hangar 34 5/8/19
DEAD KENNEDYS really don’t need any introduction. The Californian agitators have been playing politically-charged hardcore punk since their formation in 1978; comically satirising the establishment, commercialisation, and provoking debate in rock music regarding the censorship of their provocative name, lyrics and artwork.
After disbanding in 1986, shortly after the release of their fourth studio album, Bedtime For Democracy, they reformed in 2001, albeit without original vocalist Jello Biafra. Instead, former Wynona Riders vocalist Ron ‘Skip’ Greer has been touring with the Plastic Surgery Disasters era line-up for over a decade; including East Bay Ray on guitar, Klaus Flouride on bass, and D. H. Peligro on drums.
As a teenager in the 90s, I discovered the Dead Kennedys upon listening to Police Truck while performing kickflips in the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, as ironic as that sounds. I was immediately attracted to their energy. And remarkably, this energy has been retained after four decades, and is no less evident as they take to the stage of Hangar 34 for another punk exhibition.
DK kick off their setlist with Forward To Death, before transitioning through Winnebago Warrior to the aforementioned Police Truck; laying their instruments and the mosh pit to waste. Everything you would expect to hear from DK’s first three albums – 1980’s Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, 1982’s Plastic Surgery Disasters, and 1985’s Frankenchrist – are covered, as DK milk the sacred cow.
Despite his absence, Biafra’s political and social commentary is perhaps more relevant now than it ever was before. This is no more apparent than in the song Kill The Poor, a sarcastic, satirical take on an elitist view of poverty, which the lively crowd know every single word of: “The sun beams down on a brand new day / No more welfare tax to pay / Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light / Jobless millions whisked away / At last we have more room to play / All systems go to kill the poor tonight.” An apt and resistance filled sing-a-long, no less needed in 2019.
Despite a shared unity between DK and the crowd, Skip takes on the role of punk rock villain in-between songs, goading the audience into flipping him off and booing (all the while smiling profusely), especially during a particularly hilarious rant about football, and how England need to start calling it by its “correct” name: soccer. Grabbing a few water bottles during the introduction of Too Drunk To Fuck, Skip proceeds to douse the frenzied audience and jumps off the stage, allowing those closest to the barrier to join in with the surf-rock, punk classic. In return, Skip sarcastically asserts his happiness that everyone is “very quiet and attentive.”
But let’s get serious for a minute. Among those in the crowd are a few people wearing anti-racist t-shirts displaying a crossed-out swastika. D. H. Peligro puts down his sticks momentarily to assert DK’s anti-fascist stance and how we need to break down sociopolitical barriers, before pounding into his drum kit for Nazi Punks Fuck Off. Klaus Flouride follows with an infectious bassline, overlaid by East Bay Ray’s integral spaghetti-western twang, leading into the first song DK put to wax, California Über Alles.
Leaving the stage to the chants of DK, the band quickly emerge to play two generous encores; including Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas, Chemical Warfare, and the idiosyncratic Holiday In Cambodia. With a live performance such as this, four decades on, it is no wonder the Dead Kennedys have become such a pioneering force in the punk movement.