The Dead Milkmen are alive and kickin’

By Emily Brightman

VTscapes/Flickr

The members of the Dead Milkmen may be approaching middle age, but their electrifying stage presence indicates that they’re still as snotty and spry as they’ve ever been.

The veteran satirical punk band played to a packed and sweaty crowd of punks, young and old, in the downstairs clubroom of Northampton’s Pearl Street Nightclub on Friday. Playing a variety of old tunes peppered with newer tracks, the energetic quartet put on a show worthy of its hardcore legacy.

Opening act MC Breath, the self-described “Weird Al of rap,” kicked off the night with an approximately half hour set that showed off his talent for writing oddball tunes about mundane everyday things. The song “Superbar,” which refers to the Wendy’s buffet-style setup from decades gone by, got a chuckling ride out of the audience for its sheer irreverence and catchy synth-pop beat, as well as Breath’s appropriate Wendy’s redhead wig that he sported for the performance.

Donning what appeared to be a homemade mascot head of a fish, as well as an equally unsettling wolf’s head, Breath managed to engage with the audience enough to make his set equally comical and enjoyable. The highlight of his performance was certainly “Lottery,” a high adrenaline tune about the exhilaration of winning free money that culminated in a shower of Monopoly money littering the club’s floor like neon confetti. Breath’s eccentric antics were certainly a unique treat, but not so over-the-top that they outshined his obvious rapping chops.

After an agonizing wait for equipment to be set up, the Dead Milkmen took the stage in a veritable blaze of glory, launching into its opening number with furious propulsion. Frontman Rodney “Rodney Anonymous” Linderman was (metaphorically) on fire, jumping around boldly traipsing the club’s small stage with the braggadocio of a man half his age. Linderman even jabbed at the audience, “I’m turning 50 next month and I’m jumping around more than all of you!” which naturally riled the crowd into a mosh pit frenzy as the band launched into “Beach Party Vietnam.”

“Bitchin’ Camaro,” arguably the band’s most popular song, always begins with a cleverly worded spoken intro that varies from venue to venue, and Pearl Street’s performance was no aberration to that legacy. Linderman launched into a heated diatribe about the controversy over choosing the Massachusetts state song, which has been narrowed down to either “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers or Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” While suggesting that Amanda Palmer’s “Massachusetts Avenue” would make a better choice, Linderman ranted for a good five minutes about the general badass nature of Aerosmith highlighted by an amusing childhood story that may or may not have been fully accurate. After clearly and profanely stating his opinion on Aerosmith, Linderman concluded that “The guy who likes Aerosmith doesn’t drive a Mercedes; he drives a .. .bitchin’ Camaro!” at which point the quartet powered its way through the fan favorite with a hellish and kinetic intensity.

Rounding out the the hour-long set was a variety of the band’s classic tunes, including “Punk Rock Girl,” “Methodist Coloring Book” and “V.F.W.” Linderman’s maniac stage presence and the impressive synchronicity of guitarist Joe “Joe Jack Talcum” Genaro, Dean “Dean Clean” Sabatino and bassist Dan Stevens, even in the midst of stifling humidity and over-exuberant crowd-surfers, culminated in an electrifying experience from a band that is as energetic as it is outlandish.

Playing a commendable selection of old favorites as well as treating the audience to a previously unheard new tune, the Dead Milkmen proved to Pearl Street that age is only a number in terms of punk rock prowess. While chronological age may have caught up to them, the boys of the Dead Milkmen are still as bold and persnickety as they were in their heyday of Philadelphia’s ‘80s hardcore circuit.

Emily A. Brightman can be reached at [email protected]