The Dead Milkmen at First Avenue, 6/7/13
Photo by Erik Hess
The Dead Milkmen
with Samuel Locke Ward
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, June 7, 2013
For the uninitiated, the Dead Milkmen are associated with just one song: "Punk Rock Girl," the late '80s anthem that is somehow a sweet love song and a bitterly subversive diatribe all at once. That they played it early in the set at First Avenue on Friday night with little fanfare, underscored something that became obvious early in the set. The Dead Milkmen still have some issues to address and are more pissed off now than they were 25 years ago.
The set got off to a brazen, volatile start with "Tiny Town" the opening track on their 1985 debut Big Lizard in My Backyard and "Tacoland" from 1987's Bucky Fellini, which incited a mosh pit that waxed and waned in population and intensity for the remainder of the night.
The set was filled with songs both old (all of which still sound fantastic) and new (most of which are as acid-tongued and unflinching as anything they have ever written), and between many of them, lead singer Rodney Anonymous, born Rodney Linderman, told stories, cracked jokes, and praised Minnesota for both supporting marriage equality and ridding itself of Michele Bachmann on several occasions during the 75-minute set.
Photos by Erik Hess
The night continued to careen along like a rocket car with cut brake lines at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Songs like "Don't Trust the Happy," "Smokin' Banana Peels," "Stuart," and "Bitchin' Camaro" -- without exception -- were somehow both more dangerous and amusing. The Milkmen's trademark furious lyrics over decidedly light-hearted punk has apparently aged like fine wine, which lent an air of comfort over the night's proceedings.
The newer songs from 2011's The King in Yellow like "Fauxhemia" and "Caitlin Childs" -- a song about a real person, arrested by Homeland Security for picketing a HoneyBaked Ham store in 2003 in Georgia -- were angry, acidic. As the Dead Milkmen have aged, they've become more disillusioned with the world and what happens in it. The humor of their old songs has been replaced with rage, but it was interesting to note that it wasn't much of a shift in gears from old to new -- the message was the same, the band is just uninterested to being as obtuse with metaphors like big lizards and the like.
"I Walk the Thinnest Line," managed to be the highlight of the night, inspiring the crowd to sing along and mosh like it was 1991. It was the best example of the band's current attitude, the song re-imagined a bit, Linderman barking the lyrics at the top of his lungs with palpable anger, racing from one end of the stage to the other throughout.
Photos by Erik Hess
The band managed two, well-deserved encores, the first of which found Linderman staying onstage and addressing the very fact he stayed, offering "We all know there's going to be an encore, why pretend? I'll just stay up here -- the guys will be back in a minute." By the end of those two encores the Dead Milkmen seemed to resemble something slightly different than they were before. They've grown up but have not grown tired.
This show was not -- like so many other tours of this nature are -- a money grab. They played the old favorites to be sure, but the new material has the potential to become old favorites as well and they played those songs out of the (correct) belief that they have equal value to the older songs and not simply to try to move units at the merch table. Now, try to name another band that has been around for 30 years and has released a reunion record that's just as enjoyable as the first. It's a tough proposal, and you'll still be thinking about it the next time the Milkmen roll through town.
Critic's Bias: I've never been the world's biggest Dead Milkmen fan, but enjoy a lot of it and am very familiar with it, as many of my friends when I was growing up, as well as my younger brother were indeed big fans. They played the perfect mix of old and new to keep things interesting for the entire night without it ever seem like it was dragging or inaccessible.
The Crowd: As good as the show was, the crowd bordered on intolerable. Belligerent, drunk, pushy and incredibly rude, at one point Rodney Anonymous had to vocally break up a fight that was brewing near the front of the stage, refusing to continue the show until the two men shook hands and moved away from each other.
Overheard In the Crowd: "This is my first time seeing them." from many people for which that seemed almost impossible to be true.
Notebook Dump: That they're angrier now than they were 25 years ago makes me rethink my overall assessment that things aren't as bad as they seem.
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