March 1979. The relatively benign Jimmy Carter was in the White House, the Zen-liberal Jerry Brown, Jr., in Sacramento. It may have been over-reaching of San Francisco’s most stridently political hardcore band, The Dead Kennedys, to characterize the West Coast as a Nazi police state in “California Uber Alles.” Or, given the current governor of the Golden State, maybe it was prophetic.
The eerie (and funny) prescience doesn’t stop there. This complete 40-minute concert, recorded at San Francisco’s premier underground venue at the time, contains imprecations to “Kill the Poor,” assurances that the military draft will make a comeback, merciless send-ups of both The Beatles and Elvis, and a tendency to not just test the limits of but actually embrace bad taste.
Leader Jello Biafra, channeling the ghost of Buddy Holly through the sensibility of Johnny Rotten, understands the ridiculousness of his musical quest (“Come on get down, you lemmings!”), which is probably why the band was never considered musically compelling. Twenty-five years after the fact, it’s difficult to understand the complaint. This is punk at its irreverent, saliva-spraying best.