PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Dead Kennedys: Live at the Deaf Club

Hank Kalet

Dead Kennedys

Live at the Deaf Club

Label: Manifesto
US Release Date: 2004-03-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

Imagine it's 1979. There's a revolution going on across the country, in all manner of tiny clubs and bars. It is a revolution of sound, a complete and unmitigated assault on the staid status quo of FM radio.

Imagine you're in a small club, an underground hall known as the Deaf Club in the Mission District of San Francisco. You're there for a night of music and hard-core politics, you're there to see the Dead Kennedys and you're not going to be disappointed.

That night in 1979 has now been released on CD by Manifesto Records, a 14-song reminder of the power and energy that the Dead Kennedys brought to the stage before legal hassles and acrimony led the band to implode. The disc remains fresh today, mostly because the violence and moral deceit the band railed against remains so pervasive in our society. Their songs target political and moral hypocrisy, imperial wars and greed, an apt description of our current political straits.

The Kennedys were a literate, somewhat paranoid bunch of anarcho-leftists, a band that railed against the government, military adventurism and all manner of hypocrisy, a band that mixed a chainsaw guitar assault with wry humor and earned a place among the great American punk rock groups of the day.

Built on the model of the Sex Pistols, borrowing their frenetic, in-your-face attack and melding it with the overt left-wing politics of the Clash and the Gang of Four, the Kennedys -- Jello Biafra on vocals, Klaus Fluoride on bass and vocals, East Bay Ray on guitar, 6025 on guitar (the live disc being reviewed here is his last performance with the band) and Ted on drums -- released a half-dozen explosive albums and antagonized many a cop and government bureaucrat in their day, eventually splitting apart in flaming acrimony.

The band formed in 1978 in San Francisco when Biafra and Fluoride responded to East Bay Ray's magazine ad. The band released a couple of regional singles in 1979 and then went national with their abrasive, jet-powered debut, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, on IRS Records.

But back in 1979, they were still a regional phenomenon and Live at the Deaf Club 1969 captures them in all their ragged brilliance and defiance.

The band opens with what the disc bills as the disco version of "Kill the Poor", a funked-up, edgy (but far from disco) run through of one of their more satirical songs -- featuring the dead-on surf-inspired chorus, "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill the poor / kill, kill, kill, kill, kill the poor".

Jello's somewhat unstable tenor underscores the sarcasm of songs like "Back in Rhodesia" (an early version of "When You Get Drafted"), "California Uber Alles" (his harsh critique of lock-step politics, targeting then California Gov. Jerry Brown, a liberal Democrat with presidential aspirations and his liberal supporters), "Holiday in Cambodia", "Police Truck", "Forward to Death" and others -- a series of pointed rants against conformity, conservatism, greed, and authority.

On record, as Steve Huey points out on All Music Guide (allmusicguide.com), Biafra baits his targets with a "viciously satirical sarcasm that keeps his unflinchingly political outlook from becoming too didactic."

Live, there is a bit of the stand-up comedian in him. Biafra taunts the crowd in his faux top-40 radio voice, sounding very much like the Laugh-In announcer Gary Owen on a speedball, calling them lemmings and commanding them to dance. Later, after a raunchy version of "Man with the Dogs", a woman shouts "Show us some bicep, Biafra." Jello pauses, then shouts "Gaslight!", kicking the band into a torrid punk rock ode to doom and death that rides along the refrain, "dying with the lampshade on." "Gaslight", previously unreleased, is one of the nuggets here for Kennedys fans that also include covers of "Viva! Las Vegas", "Have I the Right", and "Back in the U.S.S.R." The Beatles classic is rendered here as pure punk, deconstructing what is probably Paul McCartney's best late-Beatles composition, a Beach Boys-inflected bit of irony, and reconstructing it in such a way to tease out the revelation that it maybe one of the first punk-rock songs ever written.

Listening to Live at the Deaf Club makes me realize how much I missed not seeing them live, makes me wish I could have been their that night in March 1979, makes me wish they were still making records with their power, energy and humor.

This is what is so amazing -- and disturbing -- about this disc. The music remains incredibly fresh, too fresh, reminding that things have not changed all that much from when this concert was recorded. The Kennedys' acid humor and uncompromising critique of the power structure created an intellectual opening, a sense of the possible at a time when the political space was narrowing and Ronald Reagan was about to enter the White House.

In a time when we have a president using an amorphous war on terror to engage in his own political agenda, an attorney general that views civil liberties as an inconvenience, and a political elite that consistently talks about protecting the little guy as it slips his wallet from his trousers, we could use a little of the Kennedys unflinching honesty now.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.