Punk as a concept is ever-evolving – what was once for the post-war children of England’s lower middle class has leaped into the minds and hearts of people worldwide. From the studded noses of the Sex Pistols, to the riot grrrls in DC, from KBO!’s Yugoslav hardcore punks, to the straight edge movement coined by Minor Threat, punk is all around us. Although there are a great many differences between these movements, they all share a few key elements: a DIY ethic, a background of marginalized and outcast society, an anti-establishment ideal, and of course loud, raucous music.
So on Tuesday night when the Dead Kennedys played to a full house at the Commodore, I found the entire affair to be troubling. A 19+ event hosted at a venue owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation, seemed a little against the ethics of everything the punk scene stands for. With a band whose roots are so heavily rooted in punk, and as one of the forefather bands of hardcore punk, it’s hard to understand what they were doing in a Granville Street venue, or why they would even be touring in the first place. Some may say they’re doing it for the fans, but if so, why choose to leave out the under 19 crowd? It’s a well-known fact that the punk movement resonates strongly with the youth of all generations.
The entire spectacle on Tuesday night had “sell-outs” plastered all over it; DK ripped through their once infectious songs as if it were a greatest hits compilation. With their new frontman ‘Skip’ Greer nasally voicing the now hollow and meaningless words to “Too Drunk To Fuck”, and backing vocals happily provided by the uproarious crowd, it was an event to surely make Frank Navetta roll in his grave.
Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys’ former frontman) had it right: he left the band when they initially disbanded in 1986, and took up a career as a political spoken word performer and head of independent record label Alternative Tentacles. However the rest of the band didn’t seem to share the same sentiment, with a string of new frontmen over the past few years and a dispute over a Levi’s commercial, it’s easy to recognize that it’s all about the Benjamins.
Not to say the performance was bad, technically it was well done; East Bay Ray with his surf rock guitar jams, Klaus Fluoride on bass, and D.H. Peilgro on drums, it was a well fitted crew. They’re all finely tuned musicians who know exactly what they’re doing. But the passion and soul of punk was not there. Maybe it was outside the venue, where the kids, too young to enter, stayed out on the streets of downtown Vancouver, wandering till they found something a little less bourgeois.
Punk isn’t dead, it’s hidden in small warehouse venues in dark alleys, in a trans* person’s courageous strut across a busy intersection, and in the kids that were left out in the cold during some washed-up old band’s last hurrah.