It’s time to taste what you most fear: Target Video’s “Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live”

By on February 7, 2018

Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live — shot by videographer Joe Rees — captures the band at Mabuhay Gardens, UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza and Rees’ own punk-centric video studio, Target Video, shortly after their emergence on the San Francisco punk scene, betwixt 1978 and 1981. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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This 30-minute live documentary — released on VHS in July 1987 — features the Dead Kennedys performing nine songs from their critically-acclaimed Alternative Tentacles debut LP Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

DKs guitarist East Bay Ray and lead singer Jello Biafra had founded the indie label in June of 1979 to release their “California Über Alles” single, a pointed, satirical attack on California’s governor Jerry Brown (1975-1983).

Biafra became the sole owner of Alternative Tentacles in the mid-’80s.

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Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live is also notable for containing the only video footage of the band’s original five-man lineup with their original drummer “Ted” (Bruce Slesinger, now an architect) and a second guitarist “6025” (Carlos Cadona).

Their more well-known drummer, D.H. Peligro, only appears on the Target Video performances, which are highlighted by Biafra’s weird pantomimed facial expressions, not to mention his apparent obsession with wearing green plastic gloves, looking like some kind of “Batman” villain.

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Here’s a list of the songs performed (in order): “California Über Alles” (Mabuhay Gardens, 1979); “Kill the Poor” (B/W, Project One, 330 Grove Street, San Francisco, 1979); “Drug Me” (Mabuhay Gardens, 1979); “The Man with the Dogs” (Mabuhay Gardens, 1980); “Insight” (Mabuhay Gardens, 1980); “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” (Mabuhay Gardens, 1980); “Bleed for Me” (Target Video Studio, 1981); “Holiday in Cambodia” (Target Video Studio, 1981); “Viva Las Vegas” (B/W, Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley, 1978).

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Target Video’s trademark stock footage snippets — battle footage, public domain movies, Ronald Reagan and crude video graphics — are interspersed, as well as some local news footage from 1979, when Jello Biafra was a candidate to be San Francisco’s next mayor.

Biafra came in fourth (3.79%, more than 6500 votes) out of ten, losing to future longtime California Senator Dianne Feinstein (she apparently remarked that if someone like Biafra could achieve such a turnout, “this city is in real trouble”).

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Read more about Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live below.

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Dead Kennedys began in 1978 when East Bay Ray (born Raymond Pepperell, a UC Berkeley grad with a degree in mathematics) put up an ad — “guitarist wants to start punk or new wave band” — in San Francisco’s Aquarius Records. It also was published in a free bi-weekly music magazine BAM (Bay Area Music).

The first person to respond to his ad was Eric Boucher, who had grown up in Boulder, Colorado, who would assume a new name for the DKs: Jello Biafra.

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In the fall of ’77, Biafra had enrolled in classes at UC Santa Cruz, where he planned to study drama (he’d done some repertory theater while in high school too); he’d also tried to get into film school, but that didn’t work out.

He lasted about ten weeks, not even a full semester, before dropping out, and eventually ended up in San Francisco, where he met bassist Will Shatter of Negative Trend (and later Flipper) who told him he should be in a band.

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Biafra joined up with East Bay Ray, and they were soon joined by bassist Geoffrey Lyall, who like the others also used a pseudonym (Klaus Flouride). He’d ended up in San Francisco too, arriving in May of ’77, where he saw East Bay Ray’s ad in BAM.

The trio began calling themselves Dead Kennedys, unaware that there was already a punk band in Cleveland who’d had the name first (they ended up changing it due to the difficulty of getting booked under the moniker).

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Finding a drummer seemed to be one of the band’s biggest problems, which was finally solved when Klaus Flouride called up a drummer who had put his name on a bulletin board looking to play with other musicians.

Bruce Slesinger — who went by “Ted” — had seen Ray’s new ad at Aquarius, listing their name, Dead Kennedys — but he didn’t like the name so he hadn’t called them up. When Flouride called, he hadn’t had any other offers, so he tried out and finally the DKs had found their first lineup.

Dead Kennedys made their debut at an all-ages club called Mabuhay Gardens, sharing the bill with the Offs, on July 19, 1978.

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Joe Rees (left) with the Screamers at Target Video, San Francisco, 1978 (photo by Ruby Ray)

Joe Rees — who would videotape nearly every Dead Kennedys show — had studied art at the California College of Art in Oakland before becoming part of the San Francisco punk scene.

In 1978 he’d opened his Target Video as an alternative art space in a three-story building, located at South Van Ness and 18th Street in the Mission District.

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“We started taking our stuff to the streets,” Rees would later tell Billboard magazine (Sept. 11, 1982), saying that he wanted to take “art” out of the stereotypical gallery situation, “… and this was when the punk scene started and a lot of artists I knew were taking their performances into the clubs.”

Rees videotaped the bands who played on the first floor’s live stage, and rented out the second floor to local artists. The third floor was were the offices of Rees’s Damage magazine were located. The whole building became a kind of punk rock clubhouse for the emergent San Francisco punk scene.

Read more about Dead Kennedys and Target Video in this previous Night Flight blog post.

Watch Dead Kennedys: The Early Years Live on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.