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[whitespace] Dead Minus Jello= Faulty Memory

The reunion said Dead Kennedys, but the main man and his message were missing

By David Espinoza

JELLO BIAFRA'S absence didn't stop Friday night's so-called Dead Kennedys reunion at the Catalyst from selling out. In fact, it's in doubt whether all the Santa Cruz teens in their baby-doll DK T-shirts even noticed that it was Brandon Cruz of Dr. Know replacing the much scrawnier Biafra on stage. Sure, there were a few people yelling, "Where's Jello?!" but all in all, the audience seemed more interested in getting rowdy to music most were too young to catch the band live the first time around.

Like Operation Ivy, Bad Religion and Crass, the Dead Kennedys have always been one of the few punk bands capable of articulating an intelligent message. The brains behind the Dead Kennedys' anarchist-with-a-sense-of-humor message was, and remains, Biafra (a onetime student at UCSC), who derived his stage name from a U.S. foreign policy during the '70s of dropping Jello as food relief to African countries. It was Biafra who penned the Dead Kennedys' fiendishly sarcastic songs that attacked both liberal and conservative political spectrums alike, from the anti-Jerry Brown "California Uber Alles" to the Reagan-era Cold War farce "Rambozo the Clown." And it was Biafra who went completely unacknowledged Friday as Cruz mouthed his words, backed by three punk Judas: East Bay Ray, Klaus Fouride and D.H. Peligro.

OK, OK. Guitarist East Bay Ray's signature reverb surf-punk leads were impressive, and witnessing the Catalyst floor become a turbulent sea of electrically charged bodies to songs like "Too Drunk to Fuck," "Kill the Poor" and "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" was a thrill. Still, it was a sad state of affairs to have drummer D.H. Peligro (one of only a handful of black men to make it in a major punk band) add to the farce by introducing the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off!" as an anti-racist mantra, when it's really a rant against fanaticism and uniformity within the punk movement. The song is often misinterpreted because of the chorus ("Nazi punks, Nazi punks, Nazi punks, fuck off!"), but the verses ("Punk ain't no religious cult, punk means thinking for yourself! You ain't hard-core 'cause you spike your hair when a jock still lives inside your head!") should make the true meaning abundantly clear.

Seeing as how Jello Biafra is known for editorializing about the world onstage (sometimes excessively), Brandon Cruz couldn't and didn't come close to living up to him. But who needs the original lead singer of such an important band anyway? As long as the kiddies are willing to pay up, corporate labels (Manifesto is rereleasing the majority of DK albums) will continue to buy off old punk bands. Maybe next year, there will be an Operation Ivy reunion without Jesse Michaels.

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From the November 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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