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Iconic punk label Alternative Tentacles hosts 3-day celebration at Thee Stork Club

The label started by San Francisco punk-rock icon and outspoken political gadfly Jello Biafra hosts three nights of music at Thee Stork Club in Oakland with TentacleFest, starting Thursday with Seattle surf-punk band Redshift, unhinged local heroes Fleshies, garage rockers the Darts and much more.

One of the pioneering figures in Bay Area punk rock, Biafra first came to fame as the lead singer and main songwriter for the Dead Kennedys. Started in 1978, the brash San Francisco quartet mixed surf, garage rock and rockabilly, providing a foundation for the singer's bitingly humorous lyrics and caustic delivery on classics like "California Uber Alles" and "Holiday In Cambodia."  

Dead Kennedys - "California Über Alles" (Live - 1979) by BlankTV on YouTube

The band would release a string of landmark albums and EPs starting with Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables in 1980, but having already founded their own independent record label Alternative Tentacles to issue the "California Uber Alles" single in 1979, the imprint would become one of the pioneering imprints of the punk era. In addition to putting out records by the DKs, Alternative Tentacles became the early outlet for many Northern California punk bands like 7 Seconds and Flipper as well as groups from outside the region like the Butthole Surfers and T.S.O.L. Alternative Tentacles also released important compilations Let Them Eat Jellybeans! and Not So Quiet on the Western Front that helped document both the U.S. and Bay Area punk scenes.

Biafra would make headlines with a sarcastic run for San Francisco mayor, but a controversy surrounding a poster with inflammatory art by H.R. Geiger inserted in the band's 1985 effort Frankenchrist set off a long and draining court battle that eventually led to the dissolution of the Dead Kennedys.

While he would spend a good deal of the years that followed delivering marathon politically charged spoken word performances that commented on both national and global socio-political foibles, Biafra would release numerous high-profile collaborations in the decades that followed via AT. He teamed with the likes of Ministry's Al Jourgensen (in the group Lard) and Mojo Nixon and tracked classic albums with Canadian contemporaries NoMeansNo and D.O.A. (both of whom released material via Alternative Tentacles) in addition to recording and touring with grunge iconoclasts Melvins. The label also put out seminal recordings by such notable bands as Alice Donut, Neurosis and Victims Family into the '90s and continues to put out music by vital new bands to this day.

Itchy-O at Jello Biafra Alternative Tentacles 40th anniversary Cornerstone Berkeley 11/23/19 live by Library of Skangress on YouTube

The label held its last TentacleFest five years ago in 2019 to celebrate the imprint's 40th anniversary, taking over the Cornerstone in Berkeley for two nights of performances including sets by reunited pop-punk favorites Tsunami Bomb, action-adventure metal heroes Arnocorps, slide-rule punk veterans Victims Family and a mind-blowing set from acid-damaged Denver-based taiko percussion ensemble/performance-art collective Itchy-O. This year, the entertainment is stretched out over three dates at Thee Stork Club in Oakland starting Thursday night.

Headlining the first show will be Seattle-based surf-punks Redshift, a band led by guitarist Vic Bondi, a founding member of politically charged Chicago hardcore group Articles of Faith (who had a two-volume compilation of their recordings released on AT 20 years ago). While Bondi has worked with a number of different projects over the years including Jones Very, Alloy, Report Suspicious Activity and Dead Ending -- the latter two also released recordings on Alternative Tentacles -- his latest band mixes surf, punk and politics on its 2022 effort Worst Timeline Possible. The rest of the Thursday line-up features a mix of garage, surf, and psychedelia  from unhinged North Bay experimental punks Moms With Bangs, tuneful alt-punk band Build Them To Break, and Oakland vets Middle-Aged Queers, which features ex-members of the Cost, Fang, the Insaints and the Shondes.

TentacleFest line-up Alternative Tentacles

On Friday, the party continues with an increasingly rare appearance by beloved Oakland punk outfit Fleshies. Started a quarter of a century ago by singer John No (aka John Geek, aka John Mink, aka Johnny No Moniker), guitarist Matthew "Mattowar" Viscovich, bassist Yvan "Vonny Bon Bons" Kawecki, guitarist Brian Plaskett and drummer Briant "Hamiltron" Hamilton, Fleshies grew out of the Geekfest scene that sprung up around No and the S.P.A.M. Records label he cofounded that provided an alternative for punks who didn't fall under what had become the Gilman Street/Green Day pop-punk sound that dominated the East Bay for much of the 1990s. While No's earlier band Astrolloyd and the comedic folk-punk band Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits took an irreverent approach, Fleshies tempered their spastic songs and often goofy onstage presence with lyrics that sometimes delivered satire from a radically progressive political viewpoint. 

[What If We] Arm The Homeless by Fleshies - Topic on YouTube

Taking to the road with a vengeance, Fleshies built a loyal following in the Bay Area and far afield with extensive, relentless touring in the late '90s and early '00s that showcased their anarchic stage shows featuring the singer surfing on top off, crawling underneath or running through audiences. After their eponymous debut and a self-released cassette, in 2001 the band issued the first of several efforts for AT entitled Kill the Dreamer's Dream. Packed with tuneful songs that ranged from the absurd ("Meatball," "Led F--kin' Zeppelin, Man") to revolutionary anthems like album opener "(What If We) Arm the Homeless," the recording captured the barely contained chaos of the band's live performances.

The group went through an extended period between recordings after putting out Brown Flag in 2010, Fleshies have still periodically played live shows as No focused his energies playing in his duo Street Eaters with his wife Megan March (the band became a trio in 2019 with addition of Maximum Rocknroll Magazine editor Joan DeToro on guitar). More recently, Fleshies contributed tracks to various split singles after the release of Introducing the Fleshies in 2019. Friday night, the band will be joined by Seattle noise-rock meets stoner/grunge heavyweights Sandrider, who are making a rare appearance outside of their Northwest home base. The trio features former Akimbo members Jon Weisnewski (guitar) and Nat Damm (drums) who released a number of albums for AT in the 2000s before teaming with bassist Jesse Roberts in 2008. The group has released a string of crushingly heavy albums for labels based in the Pacific Northwest, but late last year issued a new 7-inch single on AT

The Friday line-up is completed by venerable Orange County punk band M.I.A. and Desslok, a San Francisco pandemic project that includes former members of beloved local band Zen Guerilla Rich Millman (also a member of psych favorites Carlton Melton) on guitar and keys and Carl Horne on bass, ex-Acid King drummer Joey Osborne (who has played with Altamont and Frisco), and singer/synth player Bob Hannam, who is a member of SF Ace Frehley tribute act Frehley's Vomet and co-directed the 2016 documentary "The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale." 

The Darts (US) - "Pour Another" (Official Video) by The Darts (US) on YouTube

On Saturday, TentacleFest comes to a close with headlining Phoenix-based, all-female garage-psych band the Darts. Together since 2016, the feisty quartet has refined its snarling style of hook-filled, psychedelic garage-rock over the course of five albums and multiple international tours. The band is celebrating the upcoming release of their latest Alternative Tentacles album Boomerang! which they recorded with producer Mark Rains (Hooveriii, Death Valley Girls, Hunx and His Punx). The rising garage rockers are joined by Tijuana proto-punk reprobates DFMK and experimental hip-hop crew Wheelchair Sports Camp.

Thursday-Saturday, April 18-20, 7 p.m. $20 (3-day passes $50)
Thee Stork Club

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