The Dead Milkmen - Live in Ardmore (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Dead Milkmen

Live in Ardmore (2018)

live show

7 and 7- the first figure is the number of times that Dead Milkmen singer Rodney Anonymous referenced a certain executive chief’s unfortunately shaped member at the band’s September 21 show in Ardmore and the second figure is the number of times that it was totally hilarious. Each time Rodney mentioned Toad from Mario Kart he cracked himself up as much as anyone else and the dick joke, perhaps paradoxically, underscores just how profound the Milkmen can be. That is to say, their humor has always reveled in a Python-esque dual dedication to randomness and recurring jokes. But, what’s less stated is how the band uses that as a chassis to deliver biting commentary.

Deftly though, the band made their point in a concealed fashion. The Ardmore music hall was packed to the gills with fans from all eras- the kids to the old heads. So, by the time the band hit their second song, they smashed through a revved up version of certified classic “Punk Rock Girl” to get the audience on their side. As it were, the Milkmen know that you start a revolution through partying, and not through yelling out political tracks. Guitarist/singer Joe Jack Talcum was in top form. The man has long be hailed as a master of songcraft, able to wax both melancholy and mirth through his (faux?) naïve and slightly wounded tone, which is often both comical and moving. Bu, as the man slashed through tracks like an especially juiced up version of “Methodist Coloring Book” or a riff heavy take on “Dean’s Dream,” it became just how apparent that the JJT is a guitar fiend. The man knows how to craft simple, but striking hooks and at the Ardmore show, he really lit them on fire. Perhaps because Joe Jack usually takes the personal approach rather than the “Fuck Cops!” approach in his story telling, his instrument mastery is oft ignored- but to our shame, it is, because the guy can smash it out with the best of ‘em.

Meanwhile, Joe’s polar opposite, the continually ranting, often aggressive, frequently alien Rodney Anonymous seemed to be on a sugar high the entire night. He snapped back and forth across the stage. Newer ace “Now I Wanna Hold Your Dog” found Rodney spitting it out like he was fronting Discharge. At other times, he demanded that the audience look up a band he really liked on Youtube during the show and then paused the concert while everyone played the track as sort of an automated group sing-a-long. “Tiny Town” was blasted out in about half its usual running time with Rodney really playing up the “TooWwWwWwWwn” growl. Likewise, his improv game was in fine form with both “Stuart” and “Bitchin’ Camaro” getting on the spot-rewrites- Mario Kart jab included.

Rodney and Joe played well off each other, each filling in the gap of the other- one bombastic and crazed, and the other, perhaps more subtle until the real eruption occurred. Meanwhile, drummer Dean Clean drove the procession forward at a clippy pace which gave the songs a real thwomp and straight up punk attack while still giving the band a little room for melody and comedy. Likewise, Dan Stevens countered Dean’s drums with a solid backbone of a bass, which allowed Joe and Rodney (especially Rodney) and platform from which they could drift away for a while before zooming back.

All of that is to say, the show was a party with the audience clearly having a good time. But the Dead Milkmen, despite their perhaps sometimes “knucklehead” facades, don’t have a bonehead in the lot and each of them are, well… you could say they’re mostly Yodas- they’re each very intelligent, very short, and they like to prank you with a false patina that hides deeper meaning under the face. At the Ardmore show, despite the fact that they made silly cracks here and there, and despite that Rodney made no fewer than seven dick jokes, there was more going on than just mere yuk-ery.

By bundling unpleasant concepts with a digestible shell, the Dead Milkmen not only were able to address unsettling issues – the crumbling of democracy, the overarching oppression of international corporations (“Watching Scotty Die”)- but perhaps allow the listeners more room to comfortably contemplate these issues instead of merely rejecting them or mindlessly shouting back slogans. This was never more clear than during their cover of Heaven 17’s “Fascist Groove Thang.” Sure, it’s really funny to hear Joe Jack verbally emulate a synth beat by rattling out “everybody move, move to the grove!” and it’s interesting to hear Rodney twist his punk snarl into the skeleton of a smooth 80s dance hit. (How about a Chumba cover, boys?) But, despite the groups light appearance, this is heavy material. Few groups can carry something as massive as socio-political commentary on a bouncy riff and smirking chorus, but at least at their Ardmore show, the Milkmen make it look like it was no big thing.

She Became Grey opened the show and that too was perhaps a challenge to common thought. Before the show, Rodney Anonymous was remarking on twitter something to the effect of “Please don’t let them play 70s punk between bands at the show!” Well, they did, but She Became Grey did not. Sort of a combination of the cooing of Morrissey and the soaring melody of Interpol, the band was decidedly more smooth than the Milkmen. During the set, some punks were complaining that they wanted to hear the three-chord stuff, not indie rock peppered with keyboards and rich vocals. Still, other seemed to get a kick out of the group who clearly are well practiced and are hitting the marks they’re aiming to hit. Some people loved ‘em and some people hated ‘em, but everybody there formed their own opinion on the group and their ‘80s indie rock vibe. Similarly to what the Dead Milkmen statement seemed to be, if the band has got you thinking for yourself, you’re already halfway there.