As the legendary US punks came crashing down to the 02 Academy, Getintothis‘ Del Pike dived into the mosh pit to find out why after 35 years they are still causing a ruckus.
Ah the joy of coming home drenched in the sweat of other men.
Insanity reigned supreme tonight at this most frantic of Dead Kennedys gigs; A sense of madness that we really can’t recall seeing at any other gig in memory. The spell that the Kennedys weave over their followers has remained since they first burst forth onto the US punk scene at the end of the 70s, turning the most normal of folks into spasmodic, writhing robots.
Back then of course, the band was fronted by the mysterious, enigmatic Jello Biafra, a man whose shrill, twisted vocal delivery still manages to unnerve when revisiting the old stuff. But this is where the problem lies.
Look at any clip of the Kennedys live in the 80s on Youtube and you can sense that whatever Biafra was singing – he meant it. Look beyond his surgical gloves and gibbering exposition and there is passion and contempt. Songs like Kill the Poor and the seminal Holiday in Cambodia are as powerful as any punk song you can wave a gob-soaked stick at.
New vocalist, Ron “Skip” Greer (former frontman of cult East Bay pop punk band The Wynona Riders) simply doesn’t convince in the same way. He’s impassioned, yes, but such is the danger of surrogate vocalists, the band wanders into tribute territory. On this tour, original drummer, D.H. Peligro has also been replaced by close friend and former band collaborator, Steve Wilson. This leaves just guitarists, East Bay Ray and Klaus Flouride from the original line up.
As with any reformation, and particularly with punk bands, nostalgia cannot fail to dominate over the true meaning of the original incarnation, so when Greer belts out the lyrics to those incredible 80s singles that “changed a generation”, there is a sense that he is going through the motions. The tour is very much a greatest hits package and nobody seems to mind. Halloween aside, all of the original singles were revisited tonight.
Any animosity towards Greer and the band regarding the rough deal that Biafra has had from the well-publicised legal wrangles and backstabbings appear to have diminished as the new guy has the audience eating out of his hand. Obvious highlights, Too Drunk To Fuck, Nazi Punks Fuck Off and Holiday In Cambodia are technically perfect and the original guitarists are undoubtedly as in tune as ever, Greer too is great but his voice is just too ‘normal’ and the manic edge and purpose of those songs is lost a little in translation. Admittedly there are moments when he gets the Biafra sound bang on, but they are fleeting.
The new Kennedys do attempt to bring their punk attitude into a new era by relating their songs to current affairs, Greer taunting the crowd with his plea that politics are boring and rallies for less words and more action, clearly connecting with the current air of dissent in the UK. Perhaps their most acute attack to get their audience particularly aroused is the change in lyrics from MTV Get Off The Air to MP3 Get Off The Web. Punk purists were absolutely loving that one.
Nostalgia and tribute band grumblings aside, this was a great night of loud energetic frenzy which was impossible not to enjoy and credit goes to an almost perfect encore that followed a stunning California Uber Alles. Starting with their 1982 single, Bleed For Me (infused with Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off – true!) and followed by Holiday in Cambodia – at which point the room erupted – they finished off with the crowd-favourite cover of Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, inspired. One last return to the stage with Chemical Warfare was another highpoint.
In some ways, more impressive than the music tonight was the sight of the band casually walking onstage to perform their own sound check and Greer later climbing into the crowd to chat and sign autographs when the lights came on. It completely destroys any illusion of punkish over-aggression, much like the famous Sex Pistols’ Christmas party for kids.
This didn’t detract from the sheer energetic force that consumed the room for the duration of the gig tonight, they clearly have retained their intense cult following and by the continual shouts of “East Bay Ray” they have held onto at least one icon.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Del Pike