Dead Kennedys @ The Liquid Room, Edinburgh 19th June 2017
One of life’s great burning questions is: can we truly have a Dead Kennedys band without Jello Biafra as vocalist? After the group disbanded in 1986, in the wake of mounting legal expenses resulting from a PMRC obscenity trial related to the controversial H.R. Giger “Penis Landscape” cover that was initially used for their third album (Frankenchrist), relations between Biafra and other erstwhile band members have not been amicable. The main reason for this was a bitter legal dispute which arose in the late 1990s, as Biafra withheld loyalties from remaining members East Bay Ray, Klaus Fluoride and D.H. Peligro, allegedly due to the latter three wanting to license one of their songs for use in a Levi’s commercial. Jello was a truly unique vocalist in both his singing and lyrical approach, and it’s a shame that any prospect of him rejoining his original bandmates is widely regarded as a forlorn hope. Sure, the distinctive surf/punk/metal mix was always a collaborative band effort, but Jello was undeniably a large part of their distinct flavour.
Their current and fourth successive vocalist is one Ron “Skip” Greer, formerly of an East Bay punk band called The Wynona Riders. Thankfully, on last night’s evidence, he possesses enough punk bravado, swagger and charisma to at least partially fill the gaping void. In combination with the three remaining “classic lineup” members East Bay Ray, Klaus Fluoride and D.H. Peligro, the latest band incarnation is one invigorated ball of energy. There was a palpable and timely sense of defiance present in the Liquid Rooms last night, with Greer amassing considerable kudos from a crowd clearly fed up with a certain prime minister, and railing mid-song at one rather dumb audience attendee who felt the “star quarterback lies injured” section of Jock O Rama was a subject for laughter. Even the “fuck the curfew” second encore drew appreciation, despite the fact that it was rather theatrical and deceptive (Edinburgh’s weekday gig curfew is normally 10 pm while this proclamation occurred at around 5 minutes before that, thus allowing the band enough time to belt out a couple more shortish songs).
The choice of material (old classics, mostly culled from Fresh Fruit, Plastic Surgery Disasters and a couple from Frankenchrist) was fantastic and tightly played - apart, that is, from the couple of attempts to update old songs to modern times, which sounded too much like an old man whining about modern life. “MTV Get Off the Air” became “MP3 Get Off the Web”, and frankly, ended up sounding silly. Biafra possessed a uniquely acerbic wit that very few (Greer included) could hope to come close to replicating. This was what was missing last night. The sweltering, stuffy, over-packed venue (on a summers day unusually hot by Edinburgh standards) also meant that, from a personal point of view, I was raring to get out of the place by the end. Not the band’s fault I know, but it certainly marred the overall experience.
Still, do the maths: 3/4 of the Dead Kennedys, with about 4/5 of its original greatness. That’s still about 8 times better than most U.S. hardcore/punk bands.