By now, the story of the Dead Kennedys' bitter legal battle with former vocalist Jello Biafra is old news (Biafra's label, Alternative Tentacles, was ordered to pay the band $200 G's for damages resulting from unpaid royalties). So it was no surprise that, when punk rock's legendary troublemakers re-formed in 2001, Biafra wasn't taking part. Of course, the popular (and understandable) reaction was, "DK without Jello? That's like the Stooges without Iggy!" Indeed, Biafra's reverberating vocals and smart-ass attitude were a trademark of the band (not many punk rockers have the chutzpah to run for political office). But for those who view current vocalist Jeff Penalty as a Biafra wannabe, well -- as Michael Jackson likes to say -- "that's just ignorant."
"Jeff doesn't imitate Biafra, nor did Brandon," bassist Klaus Flouride tells New Times, referring to Brandon Cruz, whom Penalty replaced in 2003. "Jeff has a really good head on his shoulders. He was already up to speed at the first rehearsal."
And that, dear punk rockers, is what separates Dead Kennedys from the more uninspiring reunion acts -- Penalty is genuinely enthused about doing shows. For him, performing songs like "California Über Alles" and "Holiday in Cambodia" is a dream come true. And if you think the reunion tour is no more than the guys' cynically cashing in on their past, answer this: What is it they're cashing?
"If we were doing it for money, we'd be touring a lot more," Flouride says of the band's current venture -- a whopping four dates in Florida and then straight back home. That's not exactly how to finance a corporate rock empire. "One thing we realized when we started again is that anyone under 35 -- unless they were with a parent -- wouldn't have seen us play back in the day. We thought it might be fun to play for them. And it kept being fun."
Indeed, what started out as a last-minute decision has sustained the past four years. "When we put out Mutiny on the Bay, we had a record-release party at the Key Club," Flouride recalls. "We were going to do a meet and greet but decided to just play; that's when we got Brandon. Then, basically, D.H. [Peligro, drums] suggested we do more shows because he saw a lot of happy faces. We figured maybe a few more. Pretty soon we were playing in South America."
Unfortunately, Peligro is in recovery at a rehab facility; he'll rejoin the band later this summer, Flouride says. However, there's still one Kennedy who won't come back from the dead.
"We'd love it if Biafra wanted to do it again, but it doesn't look like it's in the cards," Flouride says. "But then again, if you'd asked me in 1995 about re-forming the Dead Kennedys, I'd say you were out of your mind."