CONCERT REVIEW: Dead Kennedys At The TLA ARTHUR SHKOLNIK After a stop at South Street’s Lorenzo’s Pizza for one of their renowned mammoth slices, I walked into the TLA and almost immediately my ears perked up to the sound of 80’s hardcore bands including Bad Brains and Minor Threat blaring on the house speakers. It might have been a good idea to hit a bar beforehand, because a seven dollar cup of beer from the TLA couldn’t possibly taste anything but bitter. I put my money to better use, instead buying a Dirty Tactics CD.

Philly punk trio Dirty Tactics had just recently come back from a European tour and jumped almost immediately back on the road with the Dead Kennedys, opening the night with ferocity and high energy. The younger, more enthusiastic show goers clapped along with the band, but it was made clear by the audience, and even acknowledged by Dirty Tactics themselves through countless “thank you’s,” that the crowd came out to hear all of their old DK favorites.

The Dead Kennedys once pushed social boundaries with their convictions and artistic integrity, laying down a firm foundation of controversy, tastelessness, and vicious attitude in their music. In many ways, the name “Dead Kennedys” says it all, however throughout the past decade, the band has gone through three different vocalists, the most current one being Ron “Skip” Greer, former singer of the East Bay pop punk outfit The Wynona Riders. With the replacement of Klaus Fluoride on bass and Jello Biafra as front man, only two of four original members remain – East Bay Ray on guitar and D.H. Peligro on the drums.

I was as ready as I was going to be to see The Dead Kennedys perform; instead, I ended up witness to the zombies of punk rock eating the grey matter out of their iconic rep, leaving behind a slimy trail of decaying flesh and putrefying cred as they staggered towards the next pay day. As the night unfolded I slowly began to realize how non-conducive the atmosphere was to a punk show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so little sweat or enthusiasm at any other performance in my life. At one point a beer had spilled on the floor, and almost immediately a janitor came out and mopped it up.

Greer came out sporting a shirt which read, in large print across the front, “It’s not easy,” and I don’t imagine that it can be. As an image, Biafra is indelible, and Greer realizes his position in good humor; he isn’t the first person to try and imitate him, and I have a feeling he won’t be the last, because in my view, that’s all that can be done. To his credit, Greer tried to get the audience on his side – he really did – and in many ways he succeeded. On first impression I had to concede that he did indeed sound a lot like Biafra, and was actually impressed, but as the set carried on, it became more and more clear that what I was witnessing was an act, not a performance.

Aside from Greer, who did his best to keep audience participation and energy at a maximum, the rest of the band kept themselves detached from the crowd, showing absolutely no emotion, as if this was just another day at work, as if they were just going through the motions, as if they had more important things to be doing that night. The presence of East Bay Ray and Peligro is the only factor that lends any legitimacy to the performance. Ray was stiff and soulless throughout the entire set; his lameness was absolutely inexcusable. He didn’t say a single word all night – he didn’t reach out, he didn’t talk to the audience — during the set, the only voice heard was that of Greer – an imitator.

There was a point during “Bleed for Me” where, through hand gestures, Greer asked East Bay Ray to extend the bridge so that he could, in classic DK fashion, interject an emphatic rant; Ray responded by shaking his head ‘no’ and a ‘let’s wrap it up’ gesture with his hand. It was a small, almost invisible moment, but it just proved to me how dramatically the balance of power has shifted since Biafra’s departure, and what the new regime meant for the band creatively.

“California Uber Alles” is one Dead Kennedys song that has constantly had parts rewritten to match current events. Over the years, Biafra, who still performs many DK songs with different backing bands, has changed the lyrics, rebuking everyone from former governor and current Attorney General of California Jerry Brown, to Ronald Reagan and Governor Schwarzenegger. These changes worked to make the songs socially relevant to new audiences, but when the current band attempted a similar feat with “MTV Get off the Air,”  they ended up modernizing one of their songs but losing any modicum of relevance, throwing in cheap shots about YouTube bloggers, which I don’t think even they themselves completely understood. Greer then went on a tirade about how wrong it is to download music for free and how we, the fans, are “the problem,” with the music industry. These are the battles the new Dead Kennedys pick and choose – the ones that end up directly lightening their pockets. It’s not about art or expression anymore – it felt more like an act of prostitution.

I really hope this was just an off night and the whole tour wasn’t like this, because if the DK’s weren’t already famous, this would ruin their careers. It’s good the band memorized all of those songs decades ago, because they haven’t done anything original since, and even if they did, marketing it under the Dead Kennedys name would be an even bigger farce than the cover band that they have become.


Forward To Death
Winnebago Warrior
Police Truck
Let’s Lynch the Landlord
Kill the Poor
MTV Get Off the Air
Too Drunk to Fuck
Moon Over Marin
Nazi Punks Fuck Off
California Uber Alles


Bleed for Me
Viva Las Vegas
Holiday in Cambodia


Chemical Warfare

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *