(All photos of Dead Kennedys fronted by Brandon Cruz by Jacob Laksin)
Now called The Pond, this Cambridge drink-dig was for years The Hideway, a much more accurate name given its location, crouched into a tight alley shooting off from the back of a liquor store parking lot. In a city where rock venues are posed out main street rows swarming with hipsters, it's a rare fit for a punk joint.
While getting a drink band stickered around my wrist at the door, two middle-agers shuffled by, flashing steaks of gray hair and unwittingly sucking the air from my chest cavity in the kind of grip that might shake up a punk lover if, oh - I don't know - it had been the Dead Kennedys. Which of course it was, respectively, Klaus Fluoride and East Bay Ray.
Still numb with awed palsy, I willed myself up a flight of stairs to the main barroom, where a pair of bondage-belted ticket chicks were kvetching about the ridiculousness of the $15 door charge. Personally, I was getting in for free, care of The Generators, so I left that alone. Apparently there were five bands slated to play, a bill on whose fullness I hadn't banked on, and while the beer was nicely cheapo, my wallet was a bit light to allow for adequate saturation.
First on were The Nickel Kids - whose audience was outnumbered by the six or so brawny STAFF bulldogs posted around the stage - meaning it was time for me to get properly acquainted with the in-house brew offerings. That lasted past The River City Rebels, whom I've seen several times and always forget why I like, until their prosaic punk pop numbers get cute with a sprightly ska blare.
Joined by my Sam Adams, I actually got my ass in gear to check out Toxic Narcotic, which is the it-band on the tongues of their crusty Boston minions. But ten minutes of front-man Bill Damon's howitzer rat-tat-tat scream-core proved nowhere near as tight or as inviting as the can on the stretch-jeaned rocker girl in front of me, and when one song exerted the gathered handful of punkers to "Drink drink drink, fucking fucking drink!" I had to fight off the urge to take them up on the offer from a good distance. The band wasn't exactly having a time of it either. "You losers!!," snarled Damon, "For at least one song, pretend this is a punk show." Advice that was eagerly accepted by the meek chorus of slam-dancers who cared.
Let me say this about The Generators. I didn't love them because their PR person squeezed me and a couple of pals in on a tight guestlist, and the California band's über-nice manager not only tossed a shirt my way, which beats the hell out of the usual exchanges ("So you write, huh. Wanna buy something?") but also introduced me to singer Doug Dagger, who, Heineken in hand and cig smoking between his fingers, talked shop about his full time gig as wholesaler of uniforms to casinos, and filled me in on The Generators subbing guitarist, who came on board with two weeks notice after they lost their regular to "family stuff." Note that I also didn't love The Generators for sporting the sloppy-Elvis burns I myself favor, but it was, with all objectivity, a nice touch. I did love The Generators for putting on one of the finest punk rock displays I've seen in a long, weary while. Even through the muffled quality of their records I'd always suspected that their rolling rock chops jounced on sharply poppy springs. I was right. Each song, with its "hey hey" break-ins, generated (sorry) some great pop voltage. Even the cover of Cocksparrer's "Running Riot," which bored me on their new release (Enemy of the State TKO), set in motion some skating-on-beer theatrics across the slicked floor. Doug, who was a little stiff at first, (understandable, given that this was the bands' first night opening up for the Kennedys, and in a foreign city at that) loosened up and delivered. Deciding that they owed us one more than promised, the boys threw in a Shleprock number from their pre-Generator days.
That left only a little band going by the name of Dead Kennedys. The crowd, a scramble of everything from punked-out juniors costumed in proto-Kennedys shtick - dollar signs scrawled across shirtfronts, even one ambitious disciple in white robe and latex gloves who was burning fake fivers - to leather jacketed thirty-somethings, packed the place. Rustling of the nervous kind swelled, pricked with the occasional "I thought they were dead" snub. The Kennedys apocalyptic intro, forecasting "political and social disorder," boomed from the sound system.
Filing out came the Kennedys, helmed by controversy, a.k.a. Brandon Cruz, the wiry five-footer standing in for Jello Biafra, the Kennedys' onetime singer and current bitter antagonist. To be honest, I could care less about the justice of that lineup, being far more interested in seeing how Cruz would match up against Biafra's spooky quiver and his famed antics. He passed on the latter, letting drummer DH Pelligro lead the night's lone sermon, ("If you don't stand for something you'll fall for fucking anything," piped Pelligro before the Kennedys launched into a rabid version of Nazi Punks Fuck Off)
So how did Cruz do? Watching him belt out classic Kennedys' tunes, blowing up dust clouds sixteen years in the making, you didn't see an impostor. When he wasn't swan diving into the sweaty mash of folk, he was swinging from the low ceiling's iron rafters. Like the MC to the world's biggest Dead Kennedys karaoke night, Cruz was happy to let the swarming hands wrest the mic long enough to bark along to a chorus. "I know I'm the new guy," he said, introducing the Kennedys, "but as long as we all have a fucking good time tonight, that's all that matters."
Of course, that couldn't have happened, even if, post mic distortion, Cruz can hit a perfect Biafra, without some noose-tight backing. Plenty of the scratched aluminum chordwork came courtesy of Klaus, who had his scab-bodied bass propped on his pot-belly. Over on the right was the treeing presence of Ray, in his ubiquitous shades and Glamour Pussies tee, strumming coolly away.
As far as the setlist went, if you were a casual Kennedys fan whose holdings didn't extend beyond their Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death hits comp, well, you would have kept up nicely. They ran down the list of faves, kicking things off with "Chemical Warfare" and waving off after the encore-ending "Holiday in Cambodia." There wasn't a throat in the place that wasn't scratched hoarse, but then, that was the point.
(This is Jacob Laksin's first live review for Razorcake.)