A couple years ago someone published an anthology of first punk rock gig stories called MY FIRST TIME or something. I was annoyed that they didn’t ask me because my first punk rock show was so much better than damn near all the entries in the book. December 1978. The Dead Kennedys. Played my (very suburban) high school. Before their first single came out. Talk about checking boxes–seminal band, memorable venue, “before they were famous…” And it was a great show to boot.
I’ll spare you all the rigmarole about how such a show came to be, save that the DKs were billed as “The Creamsicles” for obvious reasons. The show was held in an auditorium that did daytime duty as a cafeteria. Thanks to the brouhaha surrounding the show, a large crowd was on hand for openers THE ZEROES. Kids started heading for the exits almost immediately, no doubt distressed by music sounded nothing like then local favorites like The Eagles or Fleetwood Mac. But a good half remained for the headliners. And the then 4-piece DKs lineup did not disappoint. They opened with “Kill the Poor” and roared through a set loaded with early classics, including “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia.” To the amazement of (almost) all, Biafra leaped into the pogo-ing crowd during the second song, “Man With the Dogs.” This was something that simply didn’t happen at rock shows or high school dances in 1978. Fortunately, my classmates quickly adapted and gleefully dragged Biafra around the cafeteria while the band diligently played on. By the time the Kennedys left the stage, I was a convert.
Many years later, the members of the DKs were interviewed for the Bay Area punk book, GIVE ME SOMETHING BETTER. Thanks to 20+ years of litigation, differences were many and the divisions between band members deep. But the one thing they all agreed on was that they had played a great show at that suburban high school in 1978.