Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
Have you ever had one of those full-circle moments? The ones where you are lucid, in real-time, of how whatever is happening completes a journey of sorts? That was the entirety of my Sunday night on December 4th.
I remember my mom taking me to The Far East Trading Company in the mall when I was a kid. This was the day I was going to begin my coveted denim jacket, and we started with the buttons. I peered over the glass and looked at the various band pins and buttons in awe, like I was in a museum looking at the sarcophagus of King Tut. As clear as my day in my head, I can see the glass case and think back to that headspace; my eyes were darting around, looking for artists I liked on MTV. I settled on Cinderella, Ratt, the Ramones, and The Dead Milkmen. And, of course, with the granular PR, I was doing, selling everyone on “Punk Rock Girl,” I should’ve received a check from Joe Genaro or at least a liner note mention.
Flash forward to the evening of December 4th at the Ardmore Music Hall, where I was about to bring my early fandom days full circle by seeing The Dead Milkmen live. And as I walked into the Music Hall, it was plain to see that I was not the only one looking forward to riding a wave of nostalgia; a sea of my Gen-X peers moved with the tide of the crowd as fans scurried to their seats or the merch tables. Some had their children with them. Some with their old punker buddies. All were clambering to get as close as legally allowed to drink in that vintage and familiar punk at the front of the stage.
To start, Those Troublemakers tore open the sky and thrashed so hard. The band, consisting of Ashley “Butters” Heitzman (Bass and vocals.), Evan Abramson (Guitar and vocals.) and William F. Orender (Drums) set a fast and fun pace for the rest of the night as they opened the show. With songs from their Beach Bod, Runnin High, and Your Problem LPs, if you weren’t a fan before you got to Ardmore, you were when you left.
The Dead Milkmen then took the stage, well, most of them. Singer Rodney Anonymous exploded to the front, compressed energy bursting at the seams and elated to see the audience as he had just stumbled upon old friends visiting an old bar. Immediately, Rodney welcomed the fans to the show by roping them into the show, like he was conducting a choir of middle-aged Skids in a punk-rock sing-along.
Whether you were a diehard lifelong fan or simply a casual listener, there was something for everyone to latch onto and make a memory from in their setlist. With Dean’s Dream to start the show, the band rolled along through a menagerie of their hits, one by one. From Bitchin’ Camaro and Welcome to Undertown to Punk Rock Girl, the audience slowly and organically began to be enchanted back to a place of reckless abandon. More and more, the audience would be wound up a bit more, move a bit more intently, and sing a bit louder until, like a powder keg erupting, the dank, humid walls of the Ardmore Music Hall would erupt with the energy of a full-blown mosh pit formed on the floor. People were jumping, screaming lyrics & bodies cackling with glee while being tossed about the room. Now, here in that moment, we were undeniably at a punk rock show. A real granular Philly punk rock show.
The band would go on to cover The Cramps’ “Human Fly,” and Rodney would even grace us with his editorial commentary on Nazi lives. (And how they do not, in fact, matter.) The Milkmen would finish with an encore of a few more notable hits like “Smokin’ Banana Peels,” “Big Time Operator,” and the reprise from the earlier-played “Life is shit.”
As The Dead milkmen left the stage and the lights came on, a strange mix of someone’s vape and steam from the room’s humidity curled across the light’s shine. As our eyes adjusted, we could all see we were left spent, drenched in sweat, and reeling from the wanton outbreak of electricity and song we all shared in the same space.
Afterward, I would have the chance to meet Rodney Anonymous. I could articulate that although it was my first Milkmen show, I was taken aback by the force & the heart of the show overall. Rodney gave me a tap on my shoulder and chuckled, saying, “Forty Years! We have been doing that for forty years!” Ironic since whether you arrived at the show to relive a night of punk mischief or to introduce the next generation to one of the pillars of East Coast Punk, you got exactly the experience you had come for. Forty years and The Dead Milkmen are still showing us not to take ourselves too seriously but always to take empathy for others seriously.
As I was leaving, I stopped by the merchandise stand. I looked down, and there was the same simple white button with Elsie the Cow adorned across the front that I had all those years ago. There is no better time to reboot that memory than by adding a new one to the fold.
Finally. My time has come to be the bourgeois fan that says things like, “Yeah, but you see, I got mine at the show.”
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