Pretend for a moment that none of the stranger-than-fiction legal situations surrounding the members of the Dead Kennedys ever existed. Imagine that the lawsuits never happened. That the constant mudslinging never happened. That the rumored Levi's commercial offer never happened. That the ongoing reunion with different singers never happened. What you would be left with is one of the most important poltiical punk/hardcore bands since the terms "punk" and "hardcore" were used to describe this kind of music. Their music would not be tainted with the taste of dollar bills, nor would you feel guilty about wishing for a reunion.
So in the spirit of this fantasy you're currently indulged in, imagine that a live album comes out documenting this band at their earliest moments. You're told that the album will contain a previously unreleased track called "Gaslight," an early version of "When You Get Drafted" called "Back In Rhodesia," a disco[!] version of "Kill The Poor," and three cover songs, among others. You get pretty excited, as you're a big fan of the band's early work. Then you find out that the recording is taken from the band's last performance as a 5-piece, with 6025 on guitar and Ted on drums. The existence of a recording being well-enough preserved over 2 decades to warrant an official live release is rare enough in itself, which was a concern of mine as I put the CD in.
Luckily, all my worries were washed away, as Live at the Deaf Club sounds surprisingly strong and clean for a 25-year old recording. Jello Biafra's yelps are powerful and vibrant, and his little bits of between-song-banter are as vintage as one could ask for. All the instruments are easily distinguishable in the recording, even the bass [which for whatever reason always seems to be the toughest thing to capture to tape]. East Bay Ray's reverb-heavy surf guitar licks in "Man With The Dogs" and "Holiday In Cambodia" are spot on, showing that even in a show presumably as frantic and crazy as this one, the band still took pride in their musicianship.
The previously unreleased song, "Gaslight," seems to have stayed unreleased for a reason. It is a bit of a throwaway, with an unusual dual guitar instrumental break that doesn't seem to work at all. One of the few missteps of the band's career, and everyone gets a mulligan. The repeated chorus of "Dying with a lampshade on" isn't half bad, though, and this definitely showed promise that would later develop in future albums. The disco version of "Kill The Poor" is hilariously solid, and makes for an energetic opening to the disc.
The band ends their performance with a blazing rendition of "Forward To Death" before being beckoned back to the stage for an encore. Strangely, the then-quintet chose to play a trio of covers - The Honeycombs' "Have I The Right," The Beatles' "Back In The USSR," and the DK cover classic "Viva Las Vegas." When you think of the Dead Kennedys, you tend to think of their sarcastic wit and not their "fun" side, but they seem to genuinely be enjoying bashing these cover songs out like every young band does at one point.
As a longtime fan of the band, it is nice to have a collection of the band's early material all from one live show. Rarities such as "Ill In The Head" and "Forward To Death," as well as tracks like "Short Songs" and "Straight A's" that never got a proper release until Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death are all gathered here along with the band's early classics. It's tough to forget all the drama of the past handful of years, but if you can overlook it, you'll be rewarded as a fan with a strong documentation of one of the best punk bands America's ever experienced realizing their own importance in front of a crowd of a few hundred.
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