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MUSIC : Milkmen to Deliver : The Philadelphia rock quartet, noted for its off-center lyrics, will perform at the Palomino.

October 23, 1992|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times. and

Philadelphia isn't known as the birthplace of very many rock music superstar bands. The last act to make it out of that city and onto the pop singles charts was the Hooters, a band that didn't quite make it out of the '80s. But there are reasons for this, says Rodney Anonymous of the Dead Milkmen.

"There was never any of that hero worship of band people," he says. "In Philadelphia, working in a band is actually the lowest thing you can do."

It's an attitude that has perhaps contributed to the Dead Milkmen's offbeat irreverence. The Philadelphia rock quartet will perform Saturday at the Palomino as part of a national tour that has so far been moving from state to state, city to city, "with almost no rhyme or reason. . . . But it has a nice meandering pace to it," says Anonymous, the group's singer and keyboardist, who sometimes goes by the name of H. P. Hovercraft. "It's kind of weird."

The same could easily be said of the band, which first found some fame in underground music circles with the song "Punk Rock Girl." The Dead Milkmen's new album, "Soul Rotation," moves through a variety of musical styles, from the punk pace of "The Conspiracy Song" to the smooth funk of "How It's Gonna Be," a song that spotlights the renowned Uptown Horns.

Regardless of this growing musical scope, however, the band's off-center lyrical content has attracted the most attention. The frantic "Conspiracy Song," as just one example, warns: "Let me remind you, they own the talk shows, they make the rules/They own Geraldo, they own Donahue/They own the state, they own the church/They pick the winners on 'Star Search.' "

Reactions are, as always, mixed. Though Robert Christgau of the Village Voice has declared the quartet "young snots of the year, hands down," Robert Gordon in Creem magazine noted that the band "has never sounded better."

Says Anonymous: "That's one of the most satisfying things about this job, that there's this continuing debate about whether we're idiots or not. I tend to fall in with the idiot camp. When we first started making records, we had no idea what we were doing. We just rolled the tape and did whatever popped into our heads."

That was back in 1985, just as the band was embarking on its first cross-country tour: traveling broke, sleeping on floors and being thrown out of restaurants. The first road trip--with singer-guitarist Butterfly Fairweather, bassist Dave Blood and drummer Dean Clean--was a bit frightening at first, Anonymous says.

"But it was actually a great learning experience, and it was great for songs, because I met so many weird people," he says.

The Dead Milkmen have since earned a faithful club following and total record sales of more than 750,000. On "Soul Rotation," the band's sixth album, the music retains the band's humorous world view, though Anonymous says he hopes that the band's work also will become accepted for its other musical and lyrical elements.

"For a long time I always felt bad about that," he admits. "Then one day somebody said to me Frank Zappa is basically known for 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' and 'Valley Girl.' I guess if Frank can live with it, being the great musician that he is, I guess I should live with it too."

Where and When

What: The Dead Milkmen perform with Possum Dixon and Samba Hell at the Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

When: 10 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $10.

Call: (818) 764-4019.

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