Meeting the Milkmen

In junior high back in the early 90s, my friends and I discovered the Dead Milkmen. They hit their heyday in the 80s with an irreverent surf-punk sound, receiving college radio airplay with the song Punk Rock Girl. Their lyrics were ridiculous and profane. Their beats were light and choppy, with most songs not lasting much longer than 2 minutes.

In our early teens, we giggled at their cursing and juvenile antics. Our favorite songs were Bitchin Camaro, Dean’s Dream and Takin’ Retards to the Zoo. We sat in Marc’s basement, with the tape deck cranked to the max, and we laughed and laughed, secure in the knowledge we were the coolest kids on the block.

And just as we discovered the Milkmen, they disbanded in 1994. After college, most of my Dead Milkmen albums were pawned at the record store, along with Frank Black and Mudhoney. I held on to Big Lizard in my Backyard and Beelzabubba, must haves for any young adult who grew up in the 90s.

Little did I know, the Dead Milkmen were from the Philadelphia area, and they still live here today.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that the drummer, Dean Sabatino, was playing with his side band Baby Flamehead at the North Star Bar, my favorite music venue in Philly. I marked it on my calendar.

Then earlier last week, I checked the website for details, and saw that another band had been added to the venue, called 25 Cromwell Street, featuring Rodney Anonymous, lead singer of the Dead Milkmen.

My mind swirled. What if they had a mini Dead Milkmen reunion on stage? The hometown crowd is gonna sell out the joint! I better buy my ticket now!

So I did. I went to TicketFly and purchased my $10 ticket, spending an extra $2.25 for the processing fee. I figured it was worth it. It was the Milkmen for gosh sakes.

Friday night came, and I was exhausted from work. But I trudged to the North Star. The show started at 9, and it was pushing 9:30. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I got to the North Star, and it was dead. The doorman told me cover was $10, and I told him I pre-paid. He shuffled through some papers and pulled out the list. My name was the only one on there.

He stamped my wrist and I was in. In an empty bar.

25 Cromwell Street started just as I picked up the first beer. Rodney was on the left, blowing into some clarinet looking instrument with keys like a keyboard. There were 3 other members in the band, a mandalin player, a guitar player (who only played on 2 songs) and some guy hitting a hand drum.

After the first song, Rodney switched to the hurdy gurdy. I only learned it was a hurdy gurdy when I asked Rodney later on what it was.

They covered some Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and played an original called “Give My Mom a Hand Job.” The 13-year-old boy came out and I found myself giggling in my seat. There were about 10 other people in the room, tittering along.

25 Cromwell Street was done after a 30 minute set. Rodney packed away the hurdy gurdy, and lugged off his own equipment, having to dodge out of the way of the next band.

Once his stuff was stashed, Anonymous hung out with his mandolin player in front of the stage. When he walked by, I gave him a high five.

It just so happened that our beers emptied at the same time. I sidled up next to Rodney at the bar and asked if I could buy him a beer. He said his were free, but thanks. I told him that Big Lizard in My Backyard was the only album my dad ever made me turn off.

Rodney laughed and said he had never heard that before. He said his dad made him turn off Frank Zappa.

The next band started playing – the Kopecky Family Band out of Nashville. I discounted them off the bat because of their ironic hipster fashions (cut off jean shorts with a French roll), but it turned out their music rocked. I compared them to musical Transformers, as the band constantly changed instruments in between songs.

Since the crowd was still pretty light, which was a shame, Rodney Anonymous and I were the two of about 10 people rocking out on the dance floor. We were standing next to each other. He was really short and bald. I was cheesed. Here I am hanging out with the lead singer of the Dead Milkmen!

After the set, we had a lively conversation about the Kopecky Family Band and other music, including our mutual admiration for Nick Cave, and he told me about a Japanese band called Baal that I had to check out.

By this time other friends of his had shown up, and I excused myself. I stood outside the bar and texted every single high school friend to boast about my encounter.

Another hipster Death Cab for Cuties wannabes band played, and then Baby Flamehead was up. I found myself hanging out with Rodney again, watching Dean play drums for this boring folk band that probably was popular back in the 90s, but was now sorely outdated.

By the end I was mildly drunk and ready to fall asleep on my feet. Rodney was shaking hands with me and ready to party. I bid adieu and moseyed on into the night.

The experience was worth the extra $2.25.

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