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Politically charged Punk: A Perspective On The Dead Kennedys 25 Years Later

There’s twenty-four inches of snow on the ground and I totally forgot I had tickets. My friend needs to bail. She has a temperature of 101 and her feet are cold. I hear ya’ sister. I have no such excuse. I hang up. I paid fifty bucks for these tickets and I’m thinking of bailing because I’m feeling lame. My husband, a sweet, reclusive hippy at heart, who’d rather play drums than watch someone else, asked “So who are the Dead Kennedy’s again? I go to the big screen in the living room and search Youtube to find clips for him to watch while I get dressed.

I first saw The Dead Kennedys back in the day in Atlanta, GA. I’d gone to see the Butthole Surfers and fell in love with the DK’s. The first record I heard was ‘In God We Trust’ and of course I loved the last cut, “Raw Hide,” but when I heard ‘Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables’ with cuts like “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Viva Las Vegas” as the final cut – well damn, I was hooked. These guys wanted you to dance hard to a political manifesto that resonated with why-is-Ronald-Reagan-president core. But it had been years, and with no Jello Biafra, would they still kick ass? I mean, I knew East Bay Ray would kill on guitar, but didn’t their drummer and bass player have health issues?

So off I go into the dark, through the frozen waste of Boston on public transportation (because my car is buried under a cubic ton of snow), to see a band I hadn’t seen in God knows how long. But ya’ know what? The show was a reawakening for me. Maybe there was a little bit of hardcore punker left in the ol’ girl, yet. Back in the day, I’d go in the mosh pit with an antique Mexican spur on my boot, to keep the riff-raff away. Although I didn’t stage dive, I had fun with elbows and knees in the crush. This time around, I stayed in the back like a proper lady, sipping my tallboy PBR and capturing video with my phone.

There were three warm up bands. I caught two. Burning Streets, a Boston band, played first. They didn’t strike me as particularly political, but they could write a crunchy pop song that had a hook. The next local band, The Welch Boys, played loud and fast and hearkened back to the politically charged punk that I craved. Their song “Pervert” was quite captivating, given that it was about Pete Townsend and his “research” where the authorities confiscated a huge mess of child pornography on his computer. I think I may pick up their record Drinkin’ Angry.

As I sat in the back sipping PBR, I spotted Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman not two feet away at the start of the DK’s set. Holy Shit! I had to split my attention between watching them and watching the show. But eventually the DK’s won out, and I lost track of Amanda and her dreamy husband. As to the Dead Kennedys, I don’t care that they’ve barely written anything new in twenty-five years. I say the political message is still fairly topical, even though the Khmer Rouge theoretically no longer have a foot hold in Cambodia. But the poor still have a lot to be worried about (even if it isn’t Jane Fonda whose acting like she cares and then copping out to corporate greed).

And speaking of greed, the new lead singer is a sweet, young, thing named Skip, but I like to think of him as “Skippy” because I’m old. Ron “Skip” Greer has been the vocalist for the Dead Kennedys since 2008, and has received a lot of flack for changing “MTV Get Off the Air” to “MP3 Get Off the Web”.  I agree that it’s kind of cheesy to change the song in the first place. Changing lyrics is kind of prosaic. Just write a new song. Writing new lyrics should be left to fans or jingle artists. Okay, I know they fought off the jingle artists in Germany which is good. They haven’t sold out, but I find it kinda lame that an anarchistic band would fault consumers for the death of the music industry. You need us and our file sharing ways to spread your fan base, boys. That’s why there were thirty-somethings there. Sharing files isn’t the issue, it’s how the artists get paid that’s the issue. Sharing files promotes more sales and innovation, but I digress. The new version of “MP3 Get Off the Web” does have some cleverly cutting remarks about narcissistic twittering. ‘Nuff said.

East Bay Ray who left the band about the time I stopped following in the late eighties laid down some superior soloing. He’s been back since 2001, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in a while. He has clearly been keeping up on his chops with his other band Killer Smiles. Klaus Flouride on bass and D. H. Peligro on drums kicked it mean and heavy through the whole set. God they were loud. Peligro was on fire, and simply killed with the opening song. He also looked adorable sporting his Pippy Longstocking, dread ponytails. “Too Drunk to Fuck,” rocked the house with many a mosher singing along with a fist pump, and they ended with a rousing version of “Holiday in Cambodia.” There was plenty of testosterone around though, so I kept my squeaks to myself. Purr.

I had to split to catch the last train so I missed the last encore, but it was interesting to watch the thirty-somethings appreciating the old school, and if there were any twenty-somethings there, they had to be up front in the mosh pit. That’s where I would have been. It wasn’t a huge crowd, I found a place to sit after all, and there were many an old bald and paunchy punker to be seen. But I was impressed that there were younger folks there too. Maybe they were drawn by the other bands, or maybe the old DK’s still maintain enough political edge for these current hipsters even though the DK’s are from a time when Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher ruled the world.

About Jessica Fisher-Willson

Jes (Arts & Independent Music Editor) is a nerd girl who needs constant validation. To this end she invented White Light Tarot TM, a reiki-tarot deck that validates one's concerns and helps balance one's energy. It is available as an online app, a download for free, or as a book and tarot deck available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and White Light Tarot's website, as well as finer independent New Age purveyors. Mostly she is writing fiction as fast as she can and learning to be socially media-phoric. http://jessicafisherwillson.com/

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