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In 1986, the political punk scene lost the band that started it all. From the aftermath of the “Frankenchrist” trial, the Dead Kennedys called it quits.
Now it is 16 years later and the band has returned, minus estranged vocalist Jello Biafra, to resurrect their classic tunes.
Founders East Bay Ray, D.H. Peligro and Klaus Flouride return with new vocalist Brandon Cruz to spread the strongly political messages of the band to a new generation of fans. Despite looking a few years older, the same energy and conviction seemed to be in place, despite the negative words former vocalist Biafra had about the reunion.
As with most reunion shows, especially those that see original members replaces, the buzz surrounding the show was that an atrocity was being done by having the Dead Kennedys reform and tour. This feeling of betrayal disappeared from all in attendance as the band began its set, with the maniacal “Forward To Death.”
An interesting aspect of the show was the attendance of entire families, which illustrated the validity and importance of the Dead Kennedys, not just to the music scene, but politically and intellectually.
Cruz, living with the burden of comparisons to Biafra, never looked back once the entire set. He exhibited a love for the music and a willingness to get the audience involved. Known for his between song rants, Biafra was a voice for the disenfranchised of the early-80s, while Cruz, also coming from the same era with band Dr. Know, spends less time talking.
These characteristics can be seen as a positive or negative, depending on the fan. In the end, Cruz catered to the fan who had spend years listening to Dead Kennedys albums and dreaming of being old enough to see the legendary San Francisco Bay Area band, with or without Biafra.
The only fault I could find with the show was the band’s inability to update the song “California Über Alles.” During the eight year life span of the Dead Kennedys in the 80s, Biafra updated the lyrics to attack the leadership of Ronald Reagan. At this show, the band went with the original 1978 version of the song, which attacks the then-thought to be future president, former California Governor Jerry Brown.
Some of the songs touched on current themes, even the dated “Holiday In Cambodia.” With the relatively recent death of former Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, it was able to connect to the current world. Others were frighteningly relevant to the current state of the world, such as the police brutality based “Police Truck.”
Despite the opinions audience members held before the show, as soon as the first note rang out, tolerance rang through with the feeling of excitement and the idea of seeing the band they, as well as their kids in some cases, had always loved and learned from.
Set list: Forward to Death, Winnebago Warrior, Police Truck, Government Flu, Let’s Lynch the Landlord, Rawhide, Kill The Poor, Insight, Too Drunk to Fuck, Buzzbomb, Moon Over Marin, I Kill Children, Nazi Punks Fuck Off, California Über Alles, Chemical Warfare, Viva Las Vegas, Holiday In Cambodia