It’s barely 7.30pm and the up-stairs room at Sheffield’s O2 venue is already starting to buzz. Those in-the-know are here to see the opening support band, Sheffield’s own Faerground Accidents, who despite only playing their first gig last December, are starting to cause a bit of a stir in the steel city.
Fronted by ballroom dressed, blonde haired and red-smudged lipsticked Bo Mar, they are a captivating band. Their profile hasn’t been hindered by their aforementioned front man’s starring role in the recent Pulp movie. Even before they strike a note you find yourself fascinated as to just what they will sound like. There’s a bassist in a wizard’s cloak, an female synth player with an ironing board stand and the ex-guitarist from Sheffield heroes Artery.
Then, of course is their not-so-secret weapon in the shape of their frontman with his fantastic voice and tales of the darker side of relationships. Musically there’s strains of Suede, Bowie, Placebo and Pulp. Somehow though they weave it into something new, contemporary and exciting. By the time the final chords of “We hate the same things” ring out they have the sizeable crowd firmly on their side.
After that it was never going to be easy for tour support Fizzy Blood. The Leeds-based four-piece are young and still finding their feet. They suffer from something of an image crisis and get the award for possibly the worst in-between song banter I’ve heard. But as the set goes on and they move on to progressively heavier songs like set closer “Patience” I warm to them. Undoubtedly decent players, time will tell if they can hone their sound into something that disguises them from the current proliferation of heavy indie bands that we appear to have.
So on to the reason we’re all here: San Fran’s finest punk/hardcore band The Dead Kennedys. A band famous for mixing left wing, often controversial, lyrics with an explosive mix of surf, jazz and rock’n’roll. The room is now packed out as the band take the stage at half nine. Of course the rhetorical question comes up: are the DKs without their iconic frontman, Jello Biafra, nothing more than a tribute band? While it would be great if Jello was still fronting the band he helped form back in 1978, that isn’t going to happen. Musically it is of course the DKs, with both original drummer DH Peligro, and bassist Klaus Fluoride restored to the line-up along with their tall and lanky guitarist East Ray Bay. Filling the not inconsiderable shoes of Biafra is fellow San Franciscan and Winona Ryder’s vocalist Ron ‘Skip’ Greer. He’s sussed it out that he’s no Biafra body double and sensibly doesn’t try to ape him. On the other hand, he doesn’t sound too dissimilar from him and has an equally demented stage presence of his own. In short it works.
The set begins in understated fashion with “Forward to death” and a cover of “Rawhide” but takes off with the opening riffs of “Too drunk to fuck”, the first UK Top 40 hit to feature the F word, as the mosh-pit starts to churn. The band have lost none of their urgency, underlined by drummer Peligro’s quick-fire drum beats. The surprisingly short twelve song set flys by drawing, perhaps unsurprisingly, most heavily from debut LP “Fresh fruit for rotting veg”. We also get an intense “Bleed for me” and “Moon over Marin” from “Plastic surgery disasters”. East Bay Ray appears to have some issues with the proximity of the lights, given his not inconsiderable height and stage left Klaus is also feeling the heat and is drenched in sweat. “Bedtime for democracy” gets completely overlooked but they treat us to red-neck bashing “Jock-O-Rama” from “Frankenchrist” along with a reworked version of “MTV, get off the air”, amusingly re-titled “MP3, get off the net”. Hence there is no new material as such. Given current events in the Middle East though, much of the ‘old stuff’ remains frighteningly topical (“Chemical warfare”, “I kill children”). There’s also a new generation of DK fans in the audience. A young lad barely old enough to satisfy the 14+ door policy, resplendent in DKs tee and tartan punk pants, gets invited up on stage by DH Peligro to start of the band’s now infamous anti-racist rant “Nazi punks, fuck off”. They finish off with a brutal “California uber allies” before returning twice to deliver another four tracks. The best received song of the night is of course “Holiday in Cambodia” with its fantastic extended intro which showcases just how good a guitar player East Ray Bay is. And, perhaps, the only song to ever get the crowd chanting the name of Khmer Rouge despot, Pol Pot.
And there you have it. The Dead Kennedys without Jello. Those that stayed away out of principle missed a heaving punk rock gig. Those that came moshed and cheered a band still very much at the top of their game and relevant in 2014, albeit minus their iconic ex-frontman.