Dead Kennedys @ o2 Academy 2 , 23rd June 2015

dk_promo_2008

The first thing that strikes me as I open the doors to Academy 2 during support act  Slagerij‘s set, is the room is already rammed: the gig has sold out and it looks like everyone has arrived early.  Slagerij‘s solid mix of ska and punk is bright and lively and sounds more American than their native Swindon, it is only when they talk between songs do you realise the hardcore West Coast sound isn’t California you can hear, but more South West England, Wiltshire way.  They have endless energy and enthusiasm only some of which is returned by the crowd.  Undeterred they blast through a frantically paced set of songs, which is a perfect appetiser for the main course that follows.

Of the original four members of the Dead Kennedys only two are present on this tour

East Bay Ray on guitar and Klaus Flouride on bass.  The original drummer, D H Peligro’s place is temporarily filled by Steve Wilson and Jello Biafra’s presence is supplied by Ron “Skip” Greer on vocals.  I admit being a little reticent about seeing DK without Biafra, but when the choice is between attending in his absence, or never getting to see this band at all, it is a no-brainer:  I had to see the band responsible for that stunning, life-changing 7 inch circle of plastic I first heard in 1979: ‘California Uber Alles’.  And after a short 1 hour and 15 minute set, I am absolutely convinced I made the right decision to come.

As with a few of the punk bands from the late ‘70s that have recently toured, I am amazed at the youthful exuberance of those involved, most of whom are pushing 60.  Like the musicians, the songs also show no sign of dating, with the political and satirical lyrics penned over 30 years ago still frighteningly contemporary — just exchange the named country in ‘Holiday In Cambodia’ to any of the war torn countries at the moment where genocide is being allowed to take place — nothing has really changed.

The set is rammed with the band’s ‘hits’ (despite never actually having one) and they come thick and fast, as these songs were written when anything over 3 minutes long was seen as prog rock: ‘Too Drunk To F**k’, ‘Nazi Punks F**k Off’, ‘Kill the Poor’, their frenetically paced versions of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and ‘Rawhide’, the digitally upgraded ‘MP3 Get Off the Air’, ‘California Uber Alles’ and ‘Holiday In Cambodia’, all feature.

Ron Greer is an animated and wild replacement for the enigmatic Biafra, interacting both vocally and physically with the audience throughout.  His jibes about football actually being just ‘soccer’ and what American mum’s drive their kids to after their violin lessons, don’t go down well — he is either blissfully ignorant about football’s place in England, or deliberately trying to goad the crowd.  He laps up the boo’s that ring around the room, so it is likely the latter.

As the room heats up and the crush gets worse, the glasses of lager fly over the heads of the audience.  Having witnessed dozens of old punks looking for the toilets and being despondent that they had to push through the crowd to get to them (and one saying he might as well go on the floor), I wondered whether any of the glasses had been filled by desperate men.  At one point, during the middle eight of  ‘California Uber Alles’, a plastic glass is thrown at the stage and its contents sting the eyes of guitarist East Bay Ray, momentarily stopping the performance before he reaches his slow guitar part.  Respect to him, as he wipes his eyes and glasses, and continues with no histrionics.  I guess that compared to gigs during the punk explosion when they first started, these nights are tame in comparison.

‘California Uber Alles’ is a highlight for me and it is easily as good as the original 7 inch version (for those who know, the band re-recorded the song for the debut album and the album version never captured the raw energy of the single).   Tonight’s performance is especially good, augmented by the sound of hundreds of punks screaming out the incredible lyrics.  On the extended introduction, the crowd start singing the first verse before it is due and Ron Greer, shouts them to wait, as they came in early — they keep singing anyway and he joins in repeating the first verse again with them.

My only criticism, and I am sorry to bang on about it but someone has to, is the band’s use of fake encores (see below).  We just don’t need that charade at the end of gigs anymore, it is part of an unnecessary tired old circus — it is not original anymore and certainly not punk.

The Dead Kennedys are in the UK for 3 more dates; make sure you do not miss them.

Stop Fake Encores –  change.org

Review: Alan Neilson

Photograph: Official promo shot

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