Dead Kennedys

The reviewer confesses that as an angry young man some thirty-plus years ago he was "a bit" of a fan of Dead Kennedys. The distinctive American hardcore punk band played with great competence despite the complexity and speed. The politics expressed by the band, deeply contemptuous of power and conformity, also delighted. Thus it was with a combination of enthusiasm and trepidation that I entered 170 Russell Street (formally Billboard) on Wednesday October 1st, raising a quizzical eyebrow on the idea of such a band playing on a school night. The venue, one must quickly add, is one of the best in Melbourne with utterly superb layout for the sound and punters, air conditioning, and even reasonably priced drinks.

The Kennedys were well supported by Wolfpack and The Bennies, the former providing a pub-punk sound and interaction, with the latter sounding like the progeny of Metallica and Hawkwind ("doom metal" apparently). They played with enthusiasm and skill but the mixing did sound a little heavy and flat. This carried through to the Kennedys, who started with 'Forward to Death', followed by what seemed to be an truncated version of 'Winnebago Warrior'. Following some fixin' of the mixin', a vast improvement in sound and audience response accompanied 'Police Truck', 'Buzzbomb', with 'Let's Lynch the Landlord' bringing great joy to a crowd that clearly has had their share of real-estate agents.

New (post-2008) singer Skip Greer, lacks the distinctive sardonic voice of Jello Biafra, but more than makes up for this with energetic movements on stage and in the pit. He communicates well with the audience, both teasingly and in espousing the traditional left-libertarian perspective of the band. The anti-competition sports 'Jock-o-Rama', was followed with the classic 'Kill The Poor' introduced as a form of advice for Tony Abbott as the next step in his welfare policy, and by 'MP3 Get Off The Web', a modified version of the 'MTV Get Off The Air'.

The ability of the band has always been evident in both their sheer speed and with their rhythmic complexity and this evening was no exception; original members East Bay Ray and Klaus Flouride played with well-known flourish on lead guitar and bass respectively, and long-standing drummer D.H. Peligro pounded the skins with a grin that carried across the room. It was a little strange to slot in their classic surf-punk psychedelic environmental song (y'know, before it was fashionable), 'Moon Over Marin', in between the hard and fast deliveries of 'Too Drunk to Fuck' and 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off', the latter introduced by D.H. Peligro whose deeply justified opinion on such matters is somewhat coloured, shall we say? The initial set was then concluded with the ever-popular 'California Uber Alles', modified and extended.

Naturally this was not enough, and an encore was forthcoming, consisting of an excellent performance of the deeply disturbing political torture anthem 'Bleed for Me', followed by the satirical cover of 'Viva Las Vegas', and concluding with 'Holiday in Cambodia', an incredible song which captures the complex sound and sneering political spirit of the Kennedys more famously than anything else. The evening concluded with a pounding rendition of the satirical murder-fantasy of 'Chemical Warfare' resulting in a roaring applause from those present.

An overall assessment of the night is highly positive and notably inexpensively priced for the fans, with three bands presented over four hours. The Kennedys performed to expectations and also managed to retain an edginess to their sound, reminiscent of the punk aesthetic of yore. Two items however are raised as continuing concerns; the first is the effective lack of new material, with everything pretty much coming from the 1978-86 period, and the second being the well-known and ugly continuing feud over royalties and rights between DK band members and Jello Biafra. Nevertheless, a great night for fans old and new and their continuing performances are welcome and encouraged.

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