Review: Dead Kennedys, O2 Academy, Newcastle

Dead Kennedys singer Skip McSkipster at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pics: Gary Welford.
Dead Kennedys singer Skip McSkipster at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pics: Gary Welford.

Back in the late 70s, as punk enjoyed its commercial peak in the UK, one new American band became just as popular as the homegrown groups.

That band was the Dead Kennedys, formed in San Francisco, California, in 1978. Fronted by motormouth singer Jello Biafra, they released a peerless run of singles, and became underground favourites in the UK and US.

Dead Kennedys playing at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

Dead Kennedys playing at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

Often courting controversy with provocative song titles, lyrics and artwork, they broke up in 1986 after an obscenity trial over their third album, Frankenchrist.

However, with the help of one of the most iconic logos in music, and the fact debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was recognised as a classic, their legend continued to grow, as new generations of kids discovered their potent brew of punk and politics.

In 2000, Biafra lost an acrimonious legal case brought by his former band mates over songwriting credits and unpaid royalties, and the following year they reformed without him.

Guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride and drummer DH Peligro have continued to tour all over the world ever since, and without releasing any new material, have largely succeeded in enhancing their reputation.

Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Flouride at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Flouride at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

To some, the Dead Kennedys without Biafra amount to little more than a karaoke act, but for me that's nonsense when three-quarters of the classic line-up is present.

Former Winona Ryders singer Ron 'Skip McSkipster' Greer, who has fronted the band since 2008, is a more than adequate replacement, and we're spared the lengthy political diatribes which Biafra is known for.

It's also overlooking just how good the musicians behind him are. Ray is one of punk's finest players, throwing out shards of screaming, squalling guitar, while Flouride and Peligro lay down a grumbling backbeat which at times exudes pure menace.

This show, three years after their last visit to Newcastle, was upgraded from the Academy 2, and although by no means full, the size of the crowd justified the move.

Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray.

Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray.

Dead Kennedys have been around long enough to give fans what they want, and really hit their stride three songs in, with Fresh Fruit track Police Truck.

Other songs from the album dusted off during the 50-minute main set included Let's Lynch The Landlord, Kill The Poor ("the next Presidential order that Donald Trump will sign"), and the closing California Uber Alles, which was simply magnificent.

Of the later songs, MP3 Get Off The Web, their updating of Frankenchrist track MTV Get Off The Air, was probably the standout, and the only disappointment was the absence of one of my favourite DKs tracks, Halloween.

A four-song encore, including their cover of Elvis Presley's Viva Las Vegas, and a jaw-dropping Holiday In Cambodia, was rounded off by one of their most hardcore songs, Chemical Warfare.

Dead Kennedys drummer DH Peligro at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

Dead Kennedys drummer DH Peligro at the O2 Academy in Newcastle.

The brisk business done by the merch stand guarantees you'll be seeing a few more T-shirts bearing that iconic logo around town, and if the age of the band - Peligro is 57, Ray 58 and Flouride 68 - means we don't see them again, this gig will live long in the memory.

A mention, finally, for support band Otherkin, who will have won plenty of new fans gauging by the reaction of early arrivals to their half-hour opening slot.

The Dublin four-piece, fresh from supporting Guns N’ Roses at Slane Castle, reminded me of a cross between The Strokes and The Cribs, with their swaggering brand of garage rock.

They have enjoyed some success with their single Bad Advice, and their debut album OK is slated for a September release. If it can capture the energy of their live performance, it should be one worth looking out for.

Dublin garage rockers Otherkin opened for the Dead Kennedys.

Dublin garage rockers Otherkin opened for the Dead Kennedys.