DK 40 (Manifesto Records)
We've been celebrating 40 years of the Dead Kennedys for the past year. That's 40 years of politically incisive, fearless lyrics, and of recognizing and standing up to fascism in all of its forms. Four decades of some of the most exciting, infectiously catchy yet uncompromising punk rock tunes ever conceived.
Just to throw a turd in the punchbowl, because these things shouldn't be romanticized too much, it also means years of in-fighting and court cases, replacement singers after 15 years of nothing. Bad blood and public sniping.
This live three-CD set serves to remind us just how good this band was in the early-to-mid '80s, when everything clicked. Nowadays, in the wake of countless spoken word tours and TV appearances, frontman Jello Biafra can come across as smug and self-indulgent. But back then, when he would embark on a between-song rant, it was hypnotic and vital. It was like free-form poetry, and everybody listened. The man was a wild prophet, and there really was nothing like him before that point. Many would argue that there's been nothing like him since.
The three concerts we get here were recorded in Amsterdam in '82, in Munich that same year, and then in their hometown of San Francisco (at The Farm) in '85. All capture a band at its best, though the first two are a little more fiery. Overall though, it's startling just how relevant the Dead Kennedys still are in 2019. “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” could have been written yesterday. In the wake of a housing crisis, “Let's Lynch the Landlord” could be an L.A. anthem. “MTV Get Off the Air” is absolutely appropriate, though for different reasons than the band would have considered in the '80s.
“Kill the Poor,” “We've Got A Bigger Problem Now,” “Riot” — the Dead Kennedys, at their best, were essentially clairvoyants. The only tragedy is that the creative core isn't able to bury its differences and provide much-needed commentary about today's political climate.