The Dead Milkmen Bring Their Annual Halloween Scare Party to the Troc

We catch up with drummer Dean “Clean” Sabatino before they hit the stage.

Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

Photo by Jessica Kourkounis

Gone are the days when Philly’s satirical punk rock band The Dead Milkmen tour around in a kooky converted ambulance. It’s 30-plus years down the road since the band’s inception in the early 1980s. “Now our touring involves buses and planes,” says drummer Dean “Clean” Sabatino. He clarifies that it was, in fact, a medical transport van that the guys bought secondhand and never bothered to remove the sign. “We passed it on to another band, so it still lives on.”

The Milkmen are returning to the Trocadero this Friday for what’s become an annual tradition to play a Halloween show in Philadelphia and make it a wild party. Fans typically dress up in costume, as will the Dead Milkmen. There will be a sideshow in the balcony with a sword-swallowing clown and the other bands on the bill that night are friends — Ego Likeness and Fight, F*ck or Dance. Even though the years have rolled by, the Milkmen know how to fire up a house full of loyal fans. Singing full throat from a bullhorn into a microphone is one simple trick that works to rev things up. This is the band that, back in the 80s, played a Penn frat house and worked the crowd up into such a dancing froth that the floor broke underneath them.

The guys — Sabatino, Rodney Linderman, Joe Genaro and Dan Stevens — released their tenth studio album last year, Pretty Music for Pretty People, and will play cuts from that including “Big Words Make the Baby Jesus Cry.” And no doubt they will thrill fans with some older songs: “Bitchin’ Camaro,” “Punk Rock Girl,” “If You Love Someone, Set Them on Fire,” and “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything).”

After the band’s initial success, with lots of touring, college radio airtime and even some play on MTV’s video rotation, the band split in 1995. It was only after the suicide of bass player Dave Schulthise that the rest of the band, and newcomer Dan Stevens, reformed for two memorial shows in 2004. The Milkmen have been back at it since 2008, rehearsing in Manayunk when they’re not gigging. They still play with their unique, quirky dark humor and the intensity and commitment they had as young punks.

“In our opinion there’s still plenty to rail about in the news,” says Sabatino. “The things we were angry about back then — gun control, abortion, right-wing politics — still make us angry. There are plenty of targets still available.”

Despite the passage of time, the guys in the Milkmen agree that performing still has its hooks in them. “Our attitude is have fun and enjoy what you’re doing,” explains Sabatino. “If you aren’t having fun, don’t do it. We wouldn’t still be performing all these years later if we weren’t having fun.”

The Dead Milkmen perform this Friday, October 30th at the Trocadero. Tickets and more info can be found here.