While the focal point was always their shock-value, overwhelming politics and the terse vibrato of lead singer Jello Biafra belligerently delivering it all, the Dead Kennedys were much more of an ensemble than their blazing speed initially indicates. Their debut, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, is their most tame and organized affair. Guitarist East Bay Ray had yet to fully unleash his manic, surf-instrumental riffs, and drummer D.H. Peligro hadnt yet joined the group. Kill the Poor is sadly topical and timeless, whereas California Uber Alles while musically still ominous as hell overreaches in its paranoia. (Jerry Brown as a fascist?)
Its a point well-taken in the real attraction of this reissue: the 55-minute DVD documentary in which East Bay Ray and bassist Klaus Flouride deconstruct the moments that led to the making of this now punk classic. Mercifully spared the melodramatic, cabaret-stage theatrics of a Jello Biafra interview (he declined to participate after a lawsuit with his former bandmates), the documentary features six live cuts played in their entirety, and interviews that cast the band as modest social commentators who, basically, liked to jam. If anything, the band downplays their radical nature which is really radical these days.
Rob O'Connor writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.