Dead Kennedys Are Coming to Tempe (Sans Jello)
Dead Kennedys with Skip in 2008
Seeing the Dead Kennedys without Jello Biafra is kind of like seeing the reformed Misfits -- it's just not quite the same when it's only Jerry Only, but that's better than nothing, right? Or is it?
Jello hasn't performed with the Kennedys since the band's split in 1986, but the band's been at it anyway, recruiting three different singers while Biafra has focused on a spoken-word career, politics, hanging out with The Melvins, and ongoing drama with his former bandmates.
A Jello-free Dead Kennedys is scheduled to perform at Saturday, September 22, at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.
The Dead Kennedys are one of the most influential punk bands of all time, thanks to acerbic songwriting and laying the groundwork for hardcore punk. Yet their music is fairly difficult to come by, unless you know where to look. In the early '00s, it was easy to find so-called "popular" punk bands like Bad Religion and Anti-Flag, thanks to compilations, but as Dead Kennedys would never show up on something like a Punk-O-Rama , their music was somewhat challenging for a teen to come across in a pre-download era. This inaccessibility served to make the band that much more desirable, turning them into prime fodder for mix CDs. The Ska Punk Show changed all of that by introducing oblivious aspiring punks like myself to the genre's greats. Half the time I didn't know what was actually playing, but I knew I liked it. Those songs all became a little more familiar thanks to a flick that every millennial punk that grew up in the suburbs has seen many times, SLC Punk .
Aside from "Amoeba" and "Love Livin' in the City," one of the biggest musical standout moments from the flick was hearing "Kiss Me Deadly" transition to "Kill the Poor" in the closing credits. Sure, "Only posers die," but Generation X and Dead Kennedys' greatest songs still live on, even if the original bands don't.
Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables is arguably the Dead Kennedys' greatest work. Clocking in at just over half an hour, the album contains all sorts of "classic" Kennedys songs -- "Kill the Poor," "California Uber Alles," "Holiday in Cambodia," and a scathing cover of "Viva Las Vegas," and so on. The album's caustic and often hilarious political commentary set the tone for Dead Kennedys' sound, and most of the songs still apply today, especially when it comes to war.
Before Fresh Fruit was released, Biafra ran for San Francisco mayor with an interesting platform. Some ideas making sense, like a city-wide ban on cars, while others were a bit more outlandish, like forcing businessmen to wear clown suits to work every day. Not surprisingly, Biafra didn't get elected, coming in fourth place. Sure, the clown suit idea is wacky, but pretty tame compared to some present-day politics.
Biafra pushed politics again in 2000, when he was nominated as a Green Party presidential candidate with Mumia Abu-Jamal (who is still in jail) as his running mate. Yeah, he didn't win.
Following Fresh Fruit was the In God We Trust, Inc. EP (later reissued with Plastic Surgery Disasters ), which called out Nazis and organized religion (check out the golden Jesus crucified on a dollar bill cross on the album cover cover), while taking a nice, anarchistic jab at piracy. The b-side of the tape read -- "Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help."
Biafra's record label, Alternative Tentacles almost went broke thanks, to the obscenity trial following Frankenchrist's album cover. Hold on a sec, the Shriners parade isn't that offensive...that's because the original cover was a painting called Penis Landscape. A teenage girl's parents filed suit on the basis of "distribution of harmful matter to minors." After a drawn-out fight, the band triumphed, thanks to the First Amendment. Biafra later went toe to toe with Tipper Gore on Oprah.
The band released its final album, Bedtime for Democracy in 1986, providing one last criticism of Ronald Reagan and the increasingly violent punk scene, but that was nowhere near the end of the band's strife. The band later sued Biafra for royalty payments, and Biafra struck back, claiming he was the band's sole songwriter. The next debacle was the band's supposed desire to use "Holiday in Cambodia" in a Levi's commercial (though the band denies it). These issues perpetuate the bad blood between Jello and the rest of the band, causing him to dub the current incarnation of the Dead Kennedys as "the world's greediest karaoke band."
Is it best to accept that a Dead Kennedys without Jello is no Dead Kennedys at all. Are the "Faux Kennedys" better than nothing? Is Skip actually a pretty cool frontman? What do you guys think?
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.