New York City hosted its first ever hardcore punk matinee on Sunday, April 26, 1981. And no, it wasn't at CBGB, but Bond's, an old casino turned nightclub. I had a crush at the time on a punk chick in school named Tracey and one morning after homeroom she told me about it, said she and her older (and even cuter) sister Tiffany were going, and would I like to join them? Man, I was over the moon that day! I remember the ad she showed me announced its all ages premise as "No one over 18 admitted without child!" And the first band to play a punk matinee in NYC would be none other than the Dead Kennedys.
They had already reached their peak by this point, fresh off those great first two singles and first album, and all the punks in school were nuts for them, not least of all myself. So on that day in April, I went with Tracey and Tiffany on a Sunday afternoon field trip to NYC totally unlike any my parents had ever taken me on. The notes I was smart enough to take almost 35 years ago are still there to help me tell the tale.
It may have been advertised as a booze-free event (hence my parents allowing me to go), but there was plenty of weed burning all around us at this first all-ages show. Bond's was only about 3/4ths full, a far cry from the infamous oversold shows the Clash played there the following month which attracted the fire marshals. Anyway, there they were before us, the mighty young Dead Kennedys, with Jello Biafra at the helm dressed in a mad scientist jacket, asking the audience "Do you want new wave, or do you want to see us put an end to new wave?" -- no doubt a response to the music the trendy DJ played before they went on. The band charged right into "Kill The Poor" and Jello's jacket soon came off, along with his shirt.
Four songs into the set, just as they launched into "Man With The Dogs," Jello suddenly made what could very well have been history on top of history -- at the very first all-ages hardcore matinee in NYC, he became the first person I ever saw take a full-on head first stagedive into the audience. Then, as he continued singing while crowdsurfing, several audience members proceeded to climb onto the stage and leap back into the audience headfirst themselves, just as Jello had done. Could this have been the first time moshing took place at a punk show in NYC? Still to this day I wonder. I can say for sure, though, that I saw it for the very first time here.
Jello returned to the stage at song's end to find that East Bay Ray had broken a string. But no sooner was it fixed than Jello stagedived a second time. And just like before, a dozen audience members followed suit. This happened several times more before the show was over. I was happy to be in my position further back in the crowd so as not to have one of them land on me! Jello's stage banter was politically charged as you would expect, but it was surely more humorous and less overbearing than it would become in later years. The band played a fast but full set with two encores and the premiere of their new song "Too Drunk to Fuck," which came out as a 45 just a few weeks later. The last song was "Chemical Warfare" with Klaus Flouride slamming his bass down flat on the stage and Darren kicking over his drumkit Keith Moon-style at the end... as Jello dived into the crowd one last time, but of course.
It was a great show despite a lousy sound mix, and just like the full-fledged classic Misfits with Danzig lineup I saw the following year (which had an even lousier mix), the DKs with Jello is something I can say I saw live and you can't. With its formal introduction of thrashy, sped-up tempos and what was then called "slamdancing," this was a genuine glimpse into the crystal ball of punk for me. Hardcore took the city by storm that summer, and by the end of '81 every gig I would attend would seem just like this one. And how.