Beautiful Days Festival
The Dead Kennedys are on stage at Beautiful Days.
They are second on the bill and it’s a real cat amongst the pigeons moment.
There is a seething moshpit at the front, some other confused faces at the fab racket and current singer Skip’s onstage ranting, there are dashed expectations and just as many people shocked by how good they are – confusion is at the heart of punk rock and who would have thought that after all this time the band could cause so much debate which has spilled over onto forums. Watching the gig though from the stage it is a see of joyous heads out front.
Their second on the bill slot is a nod to just how big this band once was- an unlikely success story of a group that were in a rush in the punk era. They combined an utterly original take on the punk music with a twisted meltdown of garage rock n roll and twanging lunacy that combined to create brilliant, twisted and darkly satirical songs sung by the helium voiced charismatic Jello Biafra whilst the rest of the band zig zagged round him.
Jello has long gone and the reformed band tour intermittently with a very public spat with their former singer and faced with should they or shouldn’t they controversy all around them.
Barely onto the first song and my twitter feed is alight with people who can’t comprehend the DK’s without the incredible presence of Jello. And they are, of course, right…but…
I’m dumping memories and preconceptions here and just going to watch the band as band and not try and imagine what it would be like if Biafra suddenly re-emerged. Once the baggage is removed what you have is a damn great band playing songs they played on when they wet were written and recorded and were a big part of decades ago.
Of course this stuff was never about nostalgia but they play with such vigour and kooky edginess that it comes alive right in front of you. Klaus Floride shuffles around the stage like an eccentric professor dealing out those great off kilter bass lines whilst East Bay Ray twangs across him with those Ventures on acid lines that were so much part and parcel of these songs and the ageless DH Peligro is still a damn fine drummer- the band sound great – this is no tired rehash of songs that helped build the foundations of punk rock especially in America- they may look nothing like ‘punkers’ but their academic looking personnaes only adds to the music.
Skip is running around the stage and stage diving into the audience with a devil may care energy as he takes on one of the toughest jobs out there with a wilful cockiness. Stepping into Jello’s shoes is an almost impossible task- how do you play that one? do you do your own thing and drown in howls of derision for changing well loved classics or do you become an actor acting out the Jello role – he has gone for the later. He sings like the former frontman, cops some of his moves, crossing them with a young Iggy rubber legged hop and mic stand leaning intensity and does the same sort of snarky between songs raps that Biafra brilliantly patented. ‘Hello Hippies…’ is his first broadside at the huge crowd and his goofy satirical political rants are part of the DK tradition, they also wind up a section of the audience who miss the singer’s tongue in cheek nature- the verbs ams wind ups that Jello employed then and now in his solo work.
The band lean more towards their proto hardcore period with short sharp rushes of sound but still deliver all the preyed for classics like Holidays In Cambodia which is eternally fantastic, California Uber Alles still packs the terror at the heart of the American dream and Kill The Poor is unfortunately truer now than it was decades ago.
Watching the band is an odd experience when you know the arguments and you even know and like Jello quite well and think that he is at the top of his game with his new band, you feel that it’s perhaps wrong to think this actually sound great but as soon as they kick in to the first song it feels right. I can’t let the fallout colour my perception. I can’t be biased and I can’t lie to myself. If this was a band I had never seen before I would be thrilled at what they were doing and in the here and now of experience that’s all that counts.