Defend Its Existence: The Dead Kennedys

By Chris Parker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 11 | Posted Oct. 12, 2010

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The title of the Dead Kennedys’ 2007 greatest-hits compilation, Milking the Sacred Cow, perfectly captures the conflict: Did the ’80s hardcore standard bearers defy genre taboo in reforming almost a decade ago without singer Jello Biafra? Does Biafra’s 2003 conviction for underpaying bandmates their royalties disqualify his indictment of the reunion being a greedy money grab? The DKs differ from Journey and Foreigner in that they aren’t reprising some cocaine-off-the-limo-hood moment so much as capitalizing on a reputation burnished since their February ’86 breakup. While Biafra’s lyrics were an essential component, you can’t discount the searing surf-inflected guitar and overall menace, particularly on signature tracks like “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Buzzbomb.” This great music deserves the chance to impress the audience it never had, and, so long as they can remember the words, a different singer’s no great loss. Indeed, latest frontman Ron Greer (Wynona Riders) is perhaps their most capable yet. (Chris Parker)

Sun., Oct. 17, 8pm. $23. With Dirty Tactics. Theater of the Living Arts, 334 South St. 215.922.1011.

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Comments 1 - 11 of 11
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1. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 08:51AM

“You're an idiot and a poser.

This sounds about as interesting a show as seeing The Stooges without Iggy Pop, Dead Boys without Stiv Bators, or Ramones without Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee.”

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2. Steve said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 04:21PM

“If this "singer" is so capable, where is the new Dead Kennedys music? Why is it that they've reformed for so long and haven't recorded one new song?”

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3. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 04:29PM

“Jello and his new band > DK without him... THats like the Newfits Vs Old Misfits... DK just needs to stop or bury the hatchet and ask Jello to come back. Hell When I seen the GSM last week Jello was singing DK songs and humm I think he's alot better then DK's new singer.”

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4. Dylan 37 said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 04:54PM

“I'm with anon 1, without Jello there is NO dead Kennedys!”

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5. Mattro said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 05:03PM

“Jello and GSM feels vital whether they are performing new songs or a Dead Kennedys classic. The DK sound is easy to replicate with feeling. GSM does a great job with this as did Jello and the Melvins.

The re-formed DKs recreating the urgency of Biafra lyrics... that is much more problematic. Biafra's voice/perspective is a specific beast. I can't think of a performer who could lend the appropriate weight to that voice without parody. Imagine a new comedian doing an all Bill Hicks set or something along those lines. It would be a sick joke. Thankfully, in comedy, this type of behavior gets exposed and ridiculed for what it is.

I'm not saying East Bay Ray should be derided or suggesting he has no right to play the DK songs he helped create. I just don't think he should call his new band Dead Kennedys. "Undead Kennedys" is the perfect name for his new enterprise. It demonstrates he isn't taking the band SO seriously and clues the fans in as to what to expect at the shows.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 06:46PM

“Ive seen the DK's at least 5x in the 1980's growing up in the SF bay area. I was present at the last show at the on broadway, and even in the DVD stage diving. This is the DK grew up with, I remember, and cherrish. Sorry to see the problems that came about with the core members, but its nice to see someone making another go at it! Most music today is Sh!t and hopefully this will stimulate a new genre of music.”

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7. Grampa Caligula said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 06:56PM

“I will continue to write off anything Dead Kennedys does until they create new songs. When they do, I will be first in line to hear the new material. But I refuse to pay good money for more 'reissues' - it just becomes another 'lord of the Rings' event. How many versions of the same slbums am I willing to buy?”

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8. Anonymous said... on Oct 13, 2010 at 11:57PM

“No-one can ever take JELLO'S place. He has a very unique voice and I don't think anyone can sing like he does. I really don't know why they had to break up. You'd think, a band like DK would still be together after all these years. I have all their album's on record & CD & 4 dvd's. I think they were one of the best punk band's in the world. Maybe they should put aside their differences and get back together. And this Jon Greer guy should go and start up his own band and leave THE DEAD KENNEDY'S, cause JELLO BIAFRA is the man”

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9. Voodoo Godz said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 12:08AM

“I totally agree that East bay Ray and Klaus have the right to perform their songs. They are musicians after all. Musicians want to perform their songs, it´s simple. But they should choose a different name. Then it´s OK. I´m glad I could see Ray and Robbie performing DOORS Songs, it was one of the most magic moments I ever witnessed in my life. And, yes, Jello and his new band were brillant when they played the old stuff. Of course nobody "needs" the other DKs. Hey Klaus and Ray, please write new songs and convince us that you are still relevant!”

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10. CPM said... on Oct 14, 2010 at 04:09PM

“The band that calls itself the Dead Kennedys is a cover band at best. There is no new material because they don't have it in them. "A different singer's no great loss". Really? Obviously this individual was not aware of the band in the first instance.”

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11. Chris Parker said... on Oct 18, 2010 at 10:43AM

I was quite aware of the band when they first came out, and was a big fan. Jello is a great writer. But great singer? Really?? I understand the sentiment, but a big part of the band was the sound, and it seems to me the way Jello's lyrical contribution overshadowed the music was outsized to his contribution. Is it surprising that Jello's never produced anything as good? Or that he's never been able to maintain a consistent band around him, but persists in enlisting existing bands who move on after he's recorded the albums? He's an exciting writer, but as a human being he's a bit of a self-righteous prick, who you'd be hesitant to invite over for Thanksgiving because there'd always be something he'd find fault with. I think the fact that he tried to screw his bandmates out of money puts this in context. It's easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.”


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