Show Review: The Dead Milkmen with Terry Malts at Slim’s, 5/10/2012

by Jonathan Pirro on May 13, 2012

Rodney "Anonymous" Linderman of The Dead Milkmen

Rodney "Anonymous" Linderman of The Dead Milkmen

Nearly 30 years ago, in the state of Pennsylvania, a troupe of four young upstarts formed a band that was anything but what had been perceived to be the general standard for quality punk rock. With their thick Philadelphian accents, songs about defecating lizards and maintaining a healthy diet, and the general appearance of a collection of angry rednecks that had gotten themselves slightly cleaned up, the quartet added the finishing touch in the form of a fictional backstory for their band, which was called The Dead Milkmen. Nine albums, three decades, many unexpectedly big hits, and several generations’ worth of fans later, the balls-out-fun-and-plenty-of-cleverly-funny-bullshit approach that the Dead Milkmen burst into the Philadelphia punk scene with has carved out a unique but deeply passionate cult following for the four — now with new bassist Dan Stevens, after the passing of Dave “Blood” Schulthise in 2004. On Thursday night, for the first time in nearly 22 years, the Dead Milkmen returned to San Francisco, took over the small SoMA establishment known as Slim’s, and proceeded to let loose with a stunning performance, with a ferocious energy equivalent to a truckload of dynamite erupting off the edge of a canyon wall.

Phil Benson and Nathan Sweatt of Terry Malts

Phil Benson and Nathan Sweatt of Terry Malts

Even with vast anticipation for the headliners and an almost-fully-packed club by the hour of 9:00PM, the fine folks at Slim’s managed to squeeze in an opening act to procede the explosive punkers’ set. The San Francisco trio known as Terry Malts, with their lightning-fast riffs, jangly melodies, and wild dance moves, garnered little response from the crowd, but showed no signs of concern or worry as they plowed through a half hour of fun and furious tunes. Singer and bassist Phil Benson seemed to be in excellent cheer, and continuously voiced his amazement at being able to open for a band that, to him, was an honor to perform before. The relatively unpacked stage gave Benson room to fling himself wildly across the stage in front of drummer Nathan Sweatt and over to guitarist Corey Cunningham, who remained stoic in his presence but fiercely precise in his own riffs. While not possessed of the snarky humor and in-your-face attitude that the main act would display in spades, it was definitely a perfect opening act in terms of musical style, and the trio will do well to make their way onto other bills with thrashy, punky acts.

Joe Genaro and Rodney Linderman of The Dead Milkmen

Joe Genaro and Rodney Linderman of The Dead Milkmen

Behind the projection screen at Slim’s, used to offer the artists and their crew privacy while setting up their instruments, the members of the Dead Milkmen were already in high spirits while they tuned up and prepped for their set, with lead vocalist Rodney “Anonymous” Linderman cracking jokes and slinging zingers at the house music that played during the interim between the bands. When the screen lifted to reveal the band at last, the crowd seemed to liven up quickly, and the air itself grew warmer from the pulsing, shifting bodies. It was only at the end of their opening number, “Beige Sunshine”, that the mayhem got violently kicked up a few notches, as Linderman tore his vocal mic out of its stand and hurled himself across the stage, shrieking out the words of “Tiny Town”, the opening song of their debut record Big Lizard In My Backyard. Like a switch had been thrown, the onlookers sprang to life and surged forward, the crowd transforming from standing-room-only with fists in the air to a churning mass of humanity that shoved, convulsed, and clawed its way after Linderman, as he ricocheted back and forth, following “Tiny Town” with the band’s biggest smash, “Punk Rock Girl”. All of the years that had passed seemed to have zero effect on the quartet, who ripped into their set with astonishing energy and showed absolutely no sign that they were about to slow down.

Dan Stevens of The Dead Milkmen

Dan Stevens of The Dead Milkmen

The Dead Milkmen’s 23-song set covered nearly all nine of their recorded works, with many tracks from their recent release The King In Yellow being the most emphasized, after those from their debut Big Lizard In My Backyard. With nine records to their name, the last of which was birthed barely a year ago, the Dead Milkmen had plenty of ground to cover, and did it with great panache and all the doggedly-manic fun that had distinguished them in the earlier generation of their career. Linderman, the obvious main attraction of the group, alternated between leaping, sprinting, and simply bouncing in place, during most of the songs where he took up the duty of being the vocalist. When guitarist Joe Genaro was the leading voice onstage, Linderman pranced behind his keyboard, offering wide-eyes and cartoonishly-stretched jowls to his onlookers, and the over-the-top hilarity was echoed on the cross-eyed expressions of bassist Dan Stevens. All three, along with drummer Dean Sabatino, matched the time spent making eye contact with their ecstatic fans with their own exchanged glances, leading to marvelously-timed collective blasts of energy as they cranked out song after song.

Joe Genaro of The Dead Milkmen

Joe Genaro of The Dead Milkmen

Many classic fan favorites, such as “Stuart”, “Beach Party Vietnam”, and “Methodist Coloring Book” were all thrown into the list of songs, as well as a short but exciting cover of “Cars” by Gary Numan. This latter piece was imminently followed by the opening bassline of the well-loved “Bitchin’ Camaro”, and as is customary during performances of the song, Linderman spent several long minutes offering hilarious stories about some recent discoveries he had made while looking for television programs about San Francisco (which he proclaimed to be his second favorite city in the world). His Schadenfruede-filled description of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting segued into a violent rant against ignorant hillbillies and other closed-minded, homophobic stereotypical communities, with the link into the main riffs of the song being slung cleverly into the end, after two important declarations: “Travel does NOT necessarily broaden the mind”, and “You can take the hillbilly out of the shithouse, but you can’t take the shithouse out of the hillbilly.”


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23 tracks may seem like a staggering amount of time to continue playing, but with an average duration of 2-3 minutes per song, the nearly ninety minutes that the Dead Milkmen spent onstage burned through in nearly no time at all. While the band departed from the stage, Linderman made his own crass remarks and mockery of the age-old tradition of band disappearances for obvious encores, all the while encouraging his bandmates to continue the set-closing number “Life Is Shit” before they returned for four final songs. A final surprise was offered in the third song, as Linderman produced a flute for the band’s performance of “The Woman Who Was Also A Mongoose”, before the thunderous ending in the form of “Surfin’ Cow.” Once again, the band said their final goodbyes, and the screen fell, and this time, the night had finally come to a close.

Airborne!

Airborne!

The legend of The Dead Milkmen had long been embedded within my skull in years prior, and until their reformation in 2008, it was just that — a legend — but with the release of The King In Yellow and the continued string of sporadic bursts of tour dates, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I could finally see the cantankerously funny and magnificently wild quartet in the flesh. What I witnessed was a band that came barreling out onto the stage and pulled no punches, unleashing an hour and a half of solid fury and wonderful chaos that has to be seen, and felt, to be believed. Around me were faces young and old, healthy and ill, fierce and jovial, and all were united under the common flag of delightful mayhem that the Dead Milkmen flew. Let’s only hope that it is NOT, as Linderman declared at his departure, 19 more years before we see them again.

The Dead Milkmen's setlist

The Dead Milkmen's setlist

Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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