More than anything, this song was responsible for the sellout crowd at the Channel, one of the largest audiences, about 1600, to turn out in Boston for an American punk band. When the Dead Kennedys played the Rat in 1979 perhaps 100 people showed up. They were just another band then, and Biafra’s table-topping forays into the audience alienated nearly everyone in attendance – the few who remained for the second set stayed far away from the stage. But for last week’s show the Dead Kennedys were greeted as heroes and, to their credit, they challenged that reception.
The Channel was certainly prepared for the worst. With no explanation, four blue-shirted bouncers ordered entering patrons into a single-file line, patted everyone down, then let them in one-by-one. A stupid show of force. If the audience was treated like cattle outside, the oversold club was even more stifling inside, hot and cramped. East Bay Ray, for one, wasn’t happy with the club’s attitude. “They wanted to put a 10-foot barrier around the stage filled with bouncers. We told them, ‘Look, we’ve played all over the country and in Europe in front of all sorts of crowds. You don’t need this.’ They said, ‘Well, the Plasmatics used it.’”
Ray said the band has a simple technique that always works when violence arises. “In LA, the last time we played, there was a fight in the crowd so we just stopped and had everyone look at them. Then we asked them, ‘Why beat up each other? Why not go beat up the president of McDonald’s? If you’re going to be violent, attack bank presidents.’ That always stops them. Makes ‘em look stupid.”
It still got pretty crazy when the band went on at 1 a.m. Jammed tight against the stagefront, people leaped and flailed; it was even more intense than the pit action that Black Flag prompted last month at Spit. About half the 15-song set was new, including the band’s next single, “Too Drunk to Fuck.” Biafra dedicated another, “Bleed for Me,” to Alexander Haig; like “Holiday,” it’s an anti-war editorial, but this time the object of concern is El Salvador. My favorite of the new ones was “Moral Majority,” especially its silly “Rock of Ages” bass line. About a minute long, its insults are directed against Jerry Falwell and his followers (the chorus: “Blow it out your asses”).
Quite a few people insisted on throwing drinks into the air throughout the show, but the only real destruction was done during “Riot,” when the shirtless and sweaty Biafra, looking like a putty-muscled demon, leaped into the air and tore out about eight feet of acoustic ceiling tiles (accidentally, judging from his surprised expression). I didn’t see anyone get hurt, though Biafra likely bruised a few fans with his running leaps into the audience. (He had two attendants who sole chore was to drag him, often by the ankles, back onstage.) The most frightening moment, however, was when the crowd anticipated the chant of “Pol Pot,” thundering his name. “Damn,” I was thinking at the time, “I hope you people realize what you’re singing.