Dead Kennedys
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Dead Kennedys

Young Offenders & The Bennies




Fowlers Live on a Tuesday night; and I’m surprised on two counts. Firstly, by the massive turnout that came close to packing out the venue here as early as our opening act; which is not only a very welcome sight at Fowlers for an all-ages show on a Tuesday (Adelaide, no mean feat!) but also quite the inspiring/terrifying sight in seeing so many here in the comfortably middle-aged, suburban, white-haired wizardly sporting “Never Mind The Bollocks” t-shirts, gunning for a good-time (and perhaps the odd “young whippersnapper” under the age of 40 too!). Secondly, the superlative quality of the live mix. Or to put it delicately, we ALL know Fowler’s PA has a bit of a rough “reputation” (ie: something akin to a deep-fryer/toilet bowl being gouged out by an aggressive warthog, rolled in oats?). But here, it “sparkles” with just the right amount of crisp crunchiness, clean separation and rolling menace.

Opening act Young Offenders hit the stage around 8PM. Emerging band on the Adelaide scene (having their debut EP launch at Jive on Halloween if anyone’s interested), played a brisk half hour set, enthusiastic as all hell to be here tonight; but suitably seasoned and shit-sharp: in a snot-nosed, spring-loaded, blisteringly punk live performance that very much holds its own. In a sound? Think a cross between The Clash, The Ramones, Green Day, perhaps a dash of The Specials and The Living End; they’re definitely not subtle with their influences either. Lead singer Kyle Landman: with his goofy pork-pie hat and inexplicable English accent (which some lazy facebook research tells me is genuine; he’s from Kent), fronts the band like a squeaky clean Joe Strummer; while bassist Sam Male does a pretty mean emo impersonation of Flea from The Chili Peppers whenever he rips into a bass solo. Songs are suitably varied, inspired and frequently rife with uber-catchy/shouty choruses. And by the looks of the enthusiastic crowd flailing up front ever more energetically towards the end of their set? They might just have won some new fans here too. Huzzah!

Second support is The Bennies, from Melbourne, fresh from headlining The Crown & Anchor on Saturday night, here playing an equally brisk half hour set as Young Offenders before them, and if I was to describe them in one word or less? “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!”. Except that’s obviously three. But it IS a rather accurate and succinct way of describing the “impact crater” of steaming insanity they left on stage tonight. And...also, allow me to elaborate. The Bennies, for those of you who don’t already know, choose to categorise themselves as: “psychedelic-reggae-ska-doom-metal-punk-rock from hell”; or in terms rather more ludicrously colourful: think festival party-rock anthems gone shit-explodingly “Oppenheimer”. As four tie-dyed hyperactive hirsute hippies pogo-jump, high-kick and head-bang about on stage with lead singer Anty Horgan cranking his microKORG synth well beyond the point of piss-ridiculous. Or pretty much what you’d expect if Andrew WK, Electric Six and the loudest shrieking extremes of early 90’s Faith No More got wacky on a “drug neopolitan” of weed, opium, heroin, crunched up E's, clorox, methadone, subutex, morphine, peyote, “unidentifiable” (shrooms?), angel dust and then they got Chris Farley from Wayne’s World 2 to front it. Or in other words? HOLY FUCKING SHIT!! You may already know them from their Triple J hits: “Knights Forever” and “Highrider”. Or if you didn’t, you sure as shit wouldn’t be forgetting them after tonight. Mental!

As for the Dead Kennedys, they’re hitting the stage tonight consisting of original members: East Bay Ray on guitar, Klaus Flouride on bass and D.H. Peligro on drums (who’s been with the band since ’81); and headed by relative newcomer Ron “Kip” Greer on vocals; who’s been with the band since 2008 (and the third since Biafra). And before you ask...(because yes this WAS the biggest sticking point everyone had going in) he actually does a pretty bang-up job of it. He’s nailing all the punk rock attitude, the ego, the same obnoxious swagger as Jello Biafra; to the point he’s practically a spot-on fascimile. The only thing really missing, is the iconic voice. I mean there’s just no matching that high pitched asinine “warble” of Biafra; and to his credit Kip doesn’t even try to. His delivery is more dry, more flinty, snide, sneering and fine-pebbled gravelly. Slightly MORE distracting however (ie: besides the sight of him propped up and leering from his mic-stand all sharp angles, swinging wildly, thin frame, salt and pepper hair) is the overall visual of a Dead Kennedys now in 2014, that’s rather akin to watching a human-sized lead pencil, repeatedly snapping, fronting a band of pencil-pushers. In other words, a band that looks for all the world like a middle aged, sensible, suburban, antithesis (knowing subversion?) of everything we come to expect from a “punk rock” show; with the notable exception of Peligro on drums who looks half the age of everyone else with his flailing dreds (he’s 54). But no really, it’s an odd disconnect. We’re talking "senior management, dentist, accountant" bespectacled types in sensible slacks, the sort you see shopping at your local supermarket, or elected as members of your local council, and here they are playing tonight as “The Dead Kennedys”?! Which is perhaps quite understandable considering their seasoned “seniority” now; but it’s also the nonchalant ease in which they just don't give a fuck, the way that Klaus and East Bay Ray just smirk at the crowd while playing, shrug their shoulders as if to say “so what?”; I mean you’d almost accuse them of “phoning it in” now. And yet the sounds they shred with those instruments, and ever so casually? Brutal! They nail each and every one of their 16 songs (with 2 encores) through the wall. And then they tear them out again, and then they nail it some more. "Too Drunk To Fuck", California Uber Alles", Holiday In Cambodia", they're all evident here. I mean they might not look it; but if you came here to see the Dead Kennedys, you sure as shit GOT the Dead Kennedys tonight!

But what was more amusing, if not also expected from a band as apparently “politically charged” and “controversial” as the Dead Kennedys, were the snarky asides provided by lead singer Kip. Perhaps not nearly as razor sharp as Biafra’s, and he definitely doesn’t quite match the "charisma", but he still carried his own weight in pushing those buttons. Dishing snide remarks at Tony Abbott’s welfare reforms “not going far enough” before launching into “Kill The Poor”. Joking about U2 and iphones and “free music” before launching into “MP3 Get Off The Web” (their updating of “MTV Get Off The Air”); only to follow it up with a subsequent jab at social media “is it possible that too many people are instagramming during the show to know what’s happening in the moment?” (perhaps a tad ironic given this was directed at a crowd very much showing their age by how few phones were raised in capturing said moment) or Peligro having an additional stab at the Ferguson Missouri police department, dedicating “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” to the Treyvon Martin shooting. They engaged the audience as much as they antagonised it. They fed off it.

And perhaps this was the most telling thing in the end: that energy, that sense of palpable unease; a politically charged band playing to an equally charged room; a band hiding in such subversively plain sight, with all the fire and ferocity still burning within them; playing to a crowd in two minds sitting on a fence. For all the younger fans up front, cutting loose, crowd surfing, lapping up all the attention every time Kip crossed the floor to meet them having the time of their lives; there were also an equal number of older fans at the back of the room, arms crossed, not really sure if they were willing to accept this “band” they once knew, not really sure (after 30 years) if they were the same people themselves in being able to appreciate it. And then there was Kip still prodding them, still poking, tongue firmly in cheek taunting them over it, treating that uneasy band/audience dynamic tonight like an old married couple: “I hate to say it, but I’m too old for punk rock; YOU’RE too old for punk rock; the only punk you should be listening to is DAFT punk!”. It got the requisite chuckle, a few knowing guffaws from the back. And perhaps, in their own piss-taking way, they made their subversive point with it too.

Dead Kennedys: just as relevant, just as irreverent.

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