Dead Kennedys – DK40 (3CD)

Every fan knows that punk rock has had a fantastic relationship and tradition with bootleg records, and that tradition has now broken into the mainstream as well. In the twenty-first century, bands like The Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pearl Jam as well as artists like Jeff Tweedy, Neil Young and Lars Frederiksen have released a stream of great sounding live recordings under the “bootleg” moniker to the expressed joy and appreciation of fans, and have deepened the well of insight into some of those artists’ creative mindsets too. Granted, not ALL of what has come out has been gold – but the set of successes which have come along have increased the chance that a bootleg release can be something to get excited about and can be a chance worth taking at the record store.

Yes, some bootlegs have proven to be great articles worth finding, but then there are the rest – which is the category into which DK40 falls. This 3CD set presents three shows – two from ’82 and one from shortly before singer Jello Biafra’s exit in 1986 [the show which appears here is from The Farm in San Francisco, CA in 1985] – and, between those three sets, illustrates the three points that most listeners recognize as “the bootleg experience”: a set which features good sound quality (captured, in this case, at the Paradiso in the Netherlands in 1982), a set of fairly mediocre sound quality (captured in Munich, Germany in 1982) and a set that doesn’t sound bad but simply wasn’t a really great show (the San Francisco show from 1985). Now, it can’t be said that there aren’t flaws in each of these sets but, combined as they are, they make for a reasonably decent listening experience.

It needs to be conceded that, on their first pass through this set, DK40 will leave listeners actively trying to adjust to its lower fidelity. Initially, cuts like “Police Truck,” “Holiday In Cambodia” and “Kill The Poor” from the Paradiso disc, “Forward To Death,” “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” and “Too Drunk To Fuck” from the Munich disc and “Goons of Hazard,” “This Could Be Anywhere” and “MTV Get Off the Air” (from the San Francisco disc) all split their time between sounding papery and muddy, but the passion put out by Jello Biafra’s voice and the swirling pull of the instrumental performances is both noxious and hypnotic. Likewise, historians will be fascinated to hear Jello bring the proceedings to a grinding halt in San Francisco, and tell fans to back away from the stage so fans pressed against it don’t either climb up onto it or get crushed on it. Such acts make perfect sense on one hand, but also fly in the face of the media’s presentation of punk as hordes of violent fools in the Eighties on the other – which helps to make this set feel a bit more real and revealing.

In the end, while miles from perfect, it’s the combination of the sound, the songs and the spirit in these songs detailed above that makes DK40 worthwhile. That the sound quality is raw, rough and unrefined proves not to be as great a detractor as one might expect; rather, the warts-and-all impression left by each of these three CDs makes each feel like a perfect time capsule of a moment and the spirit of that moment, and it will definitely appeal both to younger potential fans, as well as being a document of the moment that will thrill older fans because it illustrates that not all documents from were destroyed or lost to some bulk tape eraser.

(Manifesto Records)

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.

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