The Early Years Live DVD by legendary punks, Dead Kennedys comes with a caution and directions. It warns that the following material contains violent imagery taken from “actual everyday life” and that the program “could be offensive to those individuals who prefer not to deal with reality”. It also says to play at “High volume!” and takes in nine live cuts from shows that occurred between 1978 and 1981, with most of these naturally from their San Francisco hometown.
Their work had been termed “devil music” by American conservatives and is full of blinding, red-hot fury and uncompromising, political messages. The compilation runs at just 30 minutes and features nine of their early tracks, most notably, “Holiday In Cambodia”. Their biggest hit comes packaged with live footage of the graphic horror of the Pol Pot regime with firebombing, shell-shocked victims and the aftermath of destruction reinforcing the point of the anthem. Perhaps someone with a sick sense of humour or someone who simply wasn’t thinking had the job of running order as they placed a cover of “Viva Las Vegas” right after this. God, ya gotta love Americans!
The full footage here actually featured on a 1987 video and comes complete with some very rudimentary, old school computer graphics. We get to see the band up close and sweaty, the hardened men playing with as much reckless abandon as the psychotic audience members that launch themselves both off and onto the stage and into the throng without a care in the world (and most definitely many years before people breathed the words, “Public liability”). There are thunderous drums, ballsy bass, gigantic guitar riffs and spitting bile and screams that bite like a right pain in the ass (something the authoritarian figures of the time would have felt thanks to these guys). The group were one aural assault but also very tight and expert musicians and you only need to look at an number like “Kill The Poor” with its fifties blues played by bratty punks if you’re unconvinced.
Also included is a short news piece from 1979 about singer, Jello Biafra running for mayor, in what would be his first but not last taste of American politics. His policy included: banning cars from the city centre, having police run for office every four years and to relieve community tension by erecting Dan White (the public official who murdered Harvey Milk) statues so people could throw eggs (sold by the Parks Department, naturally) at ‘em. He also planned to clean up the neighbourhood with a vacuum cleaner.
The latter may have been a silly idea but a stupider one was made by the person left in charge of the DVD features who decided a sing-along option was a good idea. For the most part, the words whiz by at break-neck speed like an out-of-control freight train rendering them absolutely bloody useless. Similarly, the band’s biography (and specific information about the individual members) is set rather fast and can’t be paused. And if that weren’t enough, that’s the full extent of the features, meaning there didn’t appear to be too much consideration given in transferring this lot from video to DVD. It’s a shame really, because I’m sure plenty of Dead Kennedys fans would have appreciated an extra song or 10.
The Early Years Live sees the group’s seventies and eighties line-ups pulling out all the stops with their clever social commentary and punch-in-the-face-style punk racket. As it commands, this is best when played fast and of course, LOUD!
Originally published on 4 May 2011 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/28385/Dead-Kennedys–The-Early-Years-Live
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