spread from my latest book from MY RULES
and for your reading and listening pleasure:
by Christopher Bickel from Dangerous Minds...
I recently finished reading Michael Stewart Foley’s excellent 33 1/3 series book on the Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables album.
Rather than merely analyzing recording minutae or picking apart lyrical content song-by-song, the book documents the socio-political climate of late ‘70s San Francisco, exploring the environment that existed which precipitated the need for a Dead Kennedys. It’s incidentally got me on a personal kick of revisiting a lot of DK music, particularly from that early, formative era—when Jello Biafra was writing songs instead of diatribes.
When I’m not wasting my time obsessively A/B-ing different pressings of Fresh Fruit to detect subtle differences in the mastering quality, I’m double checking to see what blessings the gods of the Internet have offered up as gap fillers in the Kennedys’ historical record. A few months ago I wrote here about an incredible 1982 live video from Vienna. Although the recording I’m presenting today is audio-only, it’s a far more interesting historical artifact than even that Vienna show (which totally blew me away). Today we’re going to listen to Terry Hammer’s recording of Dead Kennedys from Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco from June 14, 1980.
Dead Kennedys played with Paul Roessler’s band, Bent, and the Subhumans from Canada.
Terry Hammer was an audio engineer during the heyday of first wave punk in San Francisco. He maintains a mind-blowing YouTube channel upon which he has graciously decided to share dozens of live recordings he engineered for Bay Area radio stations KALX, KTIM, KSAN, KSJO, KUSF, and KSFS. The channel features no less than five different (crucial) Dead Kennedys recordings—all worth investigating.
I’ve previously gushed all over Dangerous Minds about Hammer’s recordings of DEVO and Husker Du. The quality of this recording exists somewhere in between those two, preserving, with remarkable clarity, this point in the Kennedys’ history where they were feeling more comfortable in their arrangements and picking up the tempos (but before going full hardcore with the replacement of original drummer, “Ted,” with D.H. Peligro).
But what’s really, truly astounding about this recording is the inclusion of Paul Roessler on keyboard for the final five songs of the gig. At twenty-eight and a half minutes in, Jello sardonically introduces Roessler (brother of Black Flag’s Kira Roessler) as the “Remora of Rock and Roll.” Roessler was known up to that point for his work with the Screamers, Nervous Gender, Mommymen, Bent, and Silver Chalice. Bent had opened for Dead Kennedys on that night’s bill.
“Torture those keys,” directs Biafra, and Roessler does, with distorted organ sounds blaring even more raw, jagged and cutting than East Bay Ray’s bright surf-overdrive guitar damage. Roessler performs on “Stealing People’s Mail,” “Drug Me,” “Holiday in Cambodia,” “Too Drunk to Fuck,” and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.”
The keys are particularly effective on “Too Drunk To Fuck,” changing the entire vibe of the song, giving it a campy horror sound, not far from the early death rock of bands like 45 Grave (whom Roessler was also a member of).
Roessler had previously worked with Dead Kennedys, in the studio, where he played keyboard tracks on “Drug Me” and “Stealing People’s Mail” for the Fresh Fruit LP. According to Alex Ogg’s book Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables: The Early Years, “Stealing People’s Mail” was musically influenced by Roessler’s group the Screamers.
Another noteworthy thing about this recording is the Rolling Stones cover. That’s not one I’ve heard anyplace else other than here—and it’s not bad. In a “shouldda couldda wouldda world,” it could have made a fine addition to Plastic Surgery Disasters.
Finally, this recording is gold for the six full minutes of Fab Mab promoter, Dirk Dirksen’s introduction banter to the audience. Dirksen announces that “Dead Kennedys’ [new] recording [the Fresh Fruit LP] will be coming out very shortly on ‘Sherry Red Label’ (sic) from England.” At the end of the show Dirksen berates the audience: “Drink up and put away the empties, including the biggest of all: yourselves.”
Jello’s greeting to the audience after Dirksen’s intro was timely: “Welcome to the age of new wave disco. You asked for it you got it.
As bonus, if you feel like getting a bit more lost in this era of the group, I recommend this short documentary. It’s rarely seen, and pretty informative, in spite of the complete and utter lack of Jello Biafra’s participation: