In God We Trust
Throughout the early to mid 1980s San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys were probably the best known and most influential of all the American punk bands. Extraordinary musical diversity, intelligent lyrics, incendiary live shows, not to mention their fair share of controversy all kept them firmly at the forefront of the punk scene.
So who’s in the band these days? Well (deep breath), original singer Jello Biafra is long gone, original drummer D.H Peligro left earlier this year, as did replacement singer Jeff Penalty, who himself succeeded Biafra’s replacement Brandon Cruz! Penalty was replaced by Skip and Dave Scheff took over on drums. All a bit confusing but the heart of the Dead Kennedys remains, the brilliant song writing of original guitarist East Bay Ray and the bass of Klaus Flouride (although rumour has it that Klaus is leaving later this year!).
The early stage time (8.30pm) seems to have caught a lot of punters out as the hall is only half full when they start and subsequently it takes the crowd a little while to get going. Vocalist Skip benefits from the fact that UK audiences haven’t had many opportunities to see the band in the last few years and with Biafra as the only reference point for many, he does a pretty good job. He interacts with the crowd well, remembers all the lyrics and hit’s the notes, yes I admit there is a part of me wishing it was Biafra up there but that soon passes. Early highlights come in the form of ‘Buzzbomb’ and ‘Let’s Lynch the Landlord’ but it’s the old classic ‘Kill the Poor’ that finally ignites the crowd. East Bay Ray may look like a sociology lecturer but his guitar playing is instantly recognisable and hugely underrated.
They only play for just over an hour tonight but manage to cram in a whole raft of classics, the majority of which have stood the test of time well, ‘ Too Drunk to Fuck’ , the excellent ‘Moon over Marin’ and the visceral fury of ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ all lead up to the outstanding set closer ‘California Uber Alles’, which is just brilliant tonight and has pretty much everyone joining in on the chorus. The first encore is probably the highlight of the whole set with ‘Bleed For me’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’, and ‘Jock-O-Rama’ all leading into a superb and frenzied rendition of ‘Holiday In Cambodia’. The crowd go nuts and the band respond, rolling back the years and sounding as fresh as they ever did. They return for a second and final time to deliver a new song (which predictably the crowd use as an excuse to take a breather) followed by a storming version of ‘Chemical Warfare’.
It’s been short (all over by 9.35pm!) but brilliant and apart from those who turned up late nobody is disappointed. Whether we’ll see the band on these shores again is open to question but tonight they have certainly ensured that their legacy remains intact.