Dead Milkmen at Walters, 12/5/2013
Photos by Nathan Smith
Dead Milkmen, Radioactivity, Muhammadali, Skeleton Dick Walters December 5, 2013
Nothing is more frustrating than falling in love with a band only to discover that you'll almost certainly never get to experience its music live and in person. For years now, that's been the niggling blemish on my relationship with the Dead Milkmen, Philadelphia's sardonic cowpunk satirists.
By the time I was introduced to their sometimes shocking, frequently hilarious tunes in the mid-'90s, the group was already breaking up. Even after they reformed in 2008, the Milkmen seemed determined to avoid Houston, and five years into their reformation, I'd all but given up on taking in their jangling, spastic songs straight from the electrified source.
After witnessing their first H-Town show in more than 20 years last night, it feels good to have patience reaffirmed as a virtue. Plenty of classic, reassembled punk bands have come through the downtown venue in the last couple of years; to be kind, some have held up noticeably better than others. It's a pleasure to report, then, that the Dead Milkmen are alive, energized and still sharp as a tack.
It was immediately clear on Thursday night that I was hardly alone in my anticipation for the gig. Rarely has Walters been as crammed full as it was for the Milkmen's first visit in decades. Most of the folks who braved the rapidly falling temperatures to catch them last night were, like me, a tad too young to have fully participated in the group's college-rock heyday. But boy, there sure were a lot of us who wished we hadn't been.
Familiar local acts Skeleton Dick and Muhammadali did a nice job of trying to warm up the shivering folks that showed up early to get a good spot for the Milkmen, and their fellow Texas punks Radioactivity proved to be a particularly good fit for the Philadelphians' tight and energetic style. For many of us, though, the undercard felt interminably long as we waited to hear the headliners at very long last.
Pleasantly, the Dead Milkmen rewarded our wait with a light and lengthy set once they finally appeared. Front man Rodney Linderman, attired in a natty black bowler, brought all of the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger dude to the proceedings, bouncing all around the stage as the tightly packed audience wiggled and shook to the beat.
All of the "hits" were trotted out, from the opening salvo of "Tacoland" and "Tiny Town" through "Punk Rock Girl," "Bitchin' Camaro" and "Big Lizard in My Backyard." From front to back, there were smiles of ecstatic recognition everywhere as the band whipped from one tune to the next. For the most part, Linderman eschewed the stage banter in favor of the rapid-fire quips, one-liners and non-sequiturs built right into the songs.
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Drummer Dean Sabbatino strode the line between grinning and grimacing all night as he kept up the band's solid, bouncy beat, and the clanging strings of guitarist Joe Genaro's black Gibson SG proved to be as bright onstage as they sound on the group's classic records. There were a couple of new songs mixed into the set, which were well received. But it was the darkly funny older cuts like "V.F.W." and "Right Wing Pigeons" that had enthused fans bouncing up and down.
After offering up at least two dozen songs to make up for their long absence from the Bayou City, the Milkmen washed it all down with a personal favorite during the encore: "Life Is Shit." It was the first DM song I ever heard as a young teen, and at the time, it was the most blithely nihilistic song I'd ever heard. Hell, it's still up there. It was a bit uncomfortable how deeply the tune's matter-of-fact message resonated with me back then, and it's still pretty dear to me today.
Singing along to that refrain of "life is shit, the world is shit" with several hundred of my closest strangers was a long time coming, but it was worth it. Life is shit, sure. But sometimes it's some good shit. Count Thursday night among the latter.
Personal Bias: This is life as I know it.
The Crowd: Thick and hyped.
Overheard In the Crowd: "He may not have money, but I bet he's got drug money."
Random Notebook Dump: Damn, it was cold. When's August?
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