Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Dead Kennedys in Vancouver, October 20th, 1984
Wow. Thanks to the SFU library, I finally found the gig poster for the Dead Kennedys show I saw at the New York Theatre (aka the York Theatre) on October 20th, 1984. I was aged 14 years, having commuted in from the suburbs for my first ever punk rock concert (having only just discovered punk about a year previously, thanks to a friend who had the Sex Pistols album). Finally, seeing the poster again after all these years, I can set my mind at ease: THIS is the show where I saw House of Commons and The Bill of Rights (I always remembered seeing I, Braineater that night, doing, as I recall, a solo set in a leather jacket with an electric guitar; someone hit him on the head with a beercan and he kept right on singing. I was never clear which gig I saw those other two bands at, tho', since I went to at least one other show in my teens at the York). Also resolved: Colin Upton is right, this was NOT the show where I saw The Haters (though I wonder who the hell Bags of Dirt were? Googling the term seems to bring up a lot of gardening sites, and I have no memory of them at all, unless they dressed in black hoods and cut things up on stage with power tools. I think that was probably the Haters on some other night at the York, though - maybe the night when I only barely recall seeing Death Sentence and the Spores). Horrifying revelation: if I'd come to the DKs the NEXT night, instead, I could have seen the Crucifucks! (Obviously I had no idea who THEY were then. Note - Steve Shelley, later of Sonic Youth, was their drummer at that time!).
Everything I remember about the October 20th show (bearing in mind that it was 28 years ago):
The band entered single file through the front door of the club, to the awe of punks waiting outside (including myself). They were coming from the direction of Hastings...
Joey Shithead was serving as roadie and a few people in the audience took to chanting his name, and he sort of glowered at them, his head cocked to the side, acknowledging the attention but not exactly revelling in it, then went back to doing stuff with wires.
A friend of my youth whom I'd talked into going with me allowed his Mom to dress him (she wanted him to look nice for a concert in the city); he was wearing his best pants and shoes and wore his ZZ Top Eliminator T-shirt, much to my dismay. At some point he was ridiculed by the punks and came to me quite upset and I think I bought an In God We Trust Inc. t-shirt and told him to put it on over the ZZ Top shirt, saying it was his own damn fault for dressing in such an uncool fashion, didn't he understand anything about punk? Myself, I'd worn a green surplus workshirt, tattered at the edges, that was either military issue or a prison shirt, and an olive drab jail issue jacket that I got from my dad, I think (he was a jailguard) - the same stuff I used to wear to high school, because it was like a prison, right? My only poor choice in attire was my running shoes, which I guess were a little too loose: at one point, attempting to mosh, one of them came off, and I had to scramble about in the pit and try to find it, which I did, eventually, my sock-clad right foot getting righteously tromped on a few times in the process.
I remember as I watched the show some adult woman put her arm across my shoulders from the back and leaned on me. I liked the way her arm felt against my bristly short hair and I think I glanced back and gave her a smile, and she smiled back (though she was obviously with someone, and I was obviously underage; it wasn't a flirtation). It seemed a very friendly gesture, if a bit surprising. Is this what punks do? Hm!
I remember thinking Klaus Flouride was pretty short; he stood to the left, and, if I recall, handled most of the backup vocals. I don't think I knew that DH Peligro was black before seeing that show - it wasn't indicated on any of the album art that I'd seen. I have almost no memory of East Bay Ray, except that he was tall and stood on the right.
Jello, however, made quite an impression. I remember him ranting about the electoral choice then being presented to Americans of Reagan and Mondale, and holding forth that they were all just puppets for megacorporations and that voting couldn't change anything, that it was all just a fake choice given to the masses to give them the illusion of participating in how they were governed. (He made comments about Canadian politics, too, but I have no recollection whatsoever about them). I remember him looking at kids waving their fists in the air in a sort of solidarity gesture and calling that, too, into question, as a mindless image of power: "Fist, fist, fist - big fuckin' deal," he'd said, and I later tried to describe the moment verbatim in a journal I was keeping for my Grade 10 English class, and though I rendered "fuck" as "f--k," I still got in a bit of trouble for it from the teacher, who thought I was trying to impress him with my profanity; I was actually trying to just describe Jello's refusal of the gesture, and my understanding of his reasons for it, and to document my lived experience, which I thought was what journals were about. In between encouraging the audience to think for themselves and question authority and so forth - I don't remember the specifics of any other speech he gave, though there were many - Jello stage dived dozens of times, and spent half the concert riding the audience, shirtless, singing into his mike as he was passed from hand to hand. (I think I'd gone through my shoe ordeal at that point and was staying well out of the moshpit, so I viewed this all from the outer peripheries). I must have known about stage diving from having seen Suburbia and The Decline of Western Civilization and such, but I had no idea that MEMBERS OF BANDS did it, and I was completely impressed by the lack of any barrier between himself and the audience - he just plunged fearlessly right in, seemed even to be enjoying it. While the songs the band played that night are a little foggier, someone has a setlist from the second night online. There's a lot more Frankenchrist stuff on that list than I recall from the night I went, but I do remember "Goons of Hazard" and "MTV Get Off the Air" (a link to a live performance recorded four months prior to the one I was at). I *think* the band did "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," too, and maybe "Too Drunk to Fuck," neither of which are on that list. Other than that, the one song I vividly remember is actually one they hadn't recorded yet: on the 20th, they did "Dear Abby." I could actually make out some of the lyrics, was most amused, and I was excited to hear the recorded version, when Bedtime for Democracy finally came out (an album that disappointed me as much as anyone, though I tried hard to pretend it didn't).
There aren't many other specific details still in my head after all these years, but all of it was eye-opening in the extreme. Growing up in Maple Ridge, without a late night bus or anyone to drive back from shows, meant that punk rock was something I listened to on records and tried to piece together from Discorder and Open Road and lyric sheets and liner notes and bev.davies photos and videos I saw on Soundproof, but it wasn't something I could fully participate in (I always felt a bit like a fake, a poseur, compared to the street punks I'd see on the steps of the art gallery, but what can I say, I had a comfortable home and bed and caring parents and the start of a good record collection; I wasn't about to give that stuff up!). Bigger shows were actually a lot easier to see, in fact; I could catch the last Pacific Coach Lines bus out of the city after a concert at the Pacific Coliseum (and thus saw Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Van Halen and the Kinks and the Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio - though my Dad drove me to that, and attended, and didn't much enjoy it - he kept complaining about how loud the bands were, and musing on how short Dio was). But if I could see bigger shows whenever I wanted, punk gigs ended too late, and were too small to warrant Pacific Coach Lines adding a late bus, which they sometimes did for bigger events (there was no public transit to be had between Vancouver and Maple Ridge, in those days). The list of shows I could have seen and didn't is long indeed - I never saw DOA or Nomeansno until years afterwards, and was very aware of chances to see The Clash (before Mick Jones got the boot), Motorhead, Black Flag (with Henry), and several other big shows that I had no way to get home from. I did manage to see The Cramps, with Slow opening, out at UBC, one night when I was staying over with friends; Robyn Hitchcock (with No Fun); the Replacements, touring Tim (I think) and drunk to hell at the Town Pump; and John Cale and Pere Ubu at Club Soda. It wasn't until grunge hit, when I was hanging out with other people who liked live music (and had cars!) that I got to see a fair number of shows - Tad, Nirvana, the Melvins, Tankhog, Helmet, All, the Volcano Suns, Facepuller... To some extent I may still be compensating for all the gigs I wanted to see as a kid and couldn't...
Still: I couldn't have picked a more exciting first punk gig than the Dead Kennedys at the York. It was an identity-forming moment, and essential to my sense of what punk was supposed to be. For years after, I had a tattered, staple-gunned flyer for the gig on my wall... No idea where it's gotten to, but I'm happy to finally have uncovered a scan of it online...