The Dead Milkmen at Laurel Hill Cemetery | Photo by John Vettese

You probably know them as a fun punk rock band, but that doesn’t mean Philly’s Dead Milkmen don’t have a dark side. Last Friday, the local favorites headlined a benefit at Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls. The band performed between the pillars of a mausoleum off of Hunting Park Avenue, while the crowd – reportedly over 1,000 in attendance – gathered along the walkway and among the headstones up the hill. As dusk turned to dark and clove cigarette smoke filled the brisk pre-autumn air, the four guys on crypt  stage launched into a squalor of rumbling beats and instrumental feedback as frontman Rodney Anonymous murmured “White on white translucent black capes.” Holy shit. They were covering “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus. So perfect.

After that initial vibe-setting, the band launched into their own catalog with “the hit,” and the politely seated audience leaped to their feet and rushed the front to pound fists and sing along to “Punk Rock Girl.” The temperature literally notched up a few degrees, despite it being an outdoor show, and the setlist was broad-ranging and hugely fun. “Methodist Coloring Book” from Metaphysical Graffiti was a stadout; Joe Jack Talcum’s counterpoint banter on “Smokin’ Banana Peels” was hysterically on point; “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song” from 2011’s The King In Yellow, a classic Rodney Anonymous rant, was super well-recieved, as were the new tunes from the forthcoming Pretty Music for Pretty People and the killer “Little Rebel Mine,” which closed the main set with guest vocals by Audrey Crash from Ex-Friends.

At shows, Rodney typically uses the drawn out boho jazz spoken intro to “Bitchin’ Camero” to just share whatever’s on his mind rather than recreate the dry witty dialogue on the album version; this performance found him in rare form. After thanking just about every imaginable  person involved in putting on the show, he decided to dig into a bit of Laurel Hill lore. “There’s the grave of a confederate soldier just over that way,” he said, gesturing into the distance. “I imagine this is his worst fuckin’ nightmare, right? Everything he fought against, a bunch of liberal Yankees dancing around on top of his grave. If there was a way for me to perform an interracial gay marriage here tonight, I would.” But then he turned more sensitive, advocating for donations to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, a charity in the name of a UK youth who was murdered in 2007.

After two hours and two encores, the fans dispersed into the night, sweaty and elated, and the band had succeeded on two fronts: raising money for the upkeep of Laurel Hill and getting everyone in attendance stoked for the next time the Milkmen cometh. Check out photos from the show in the gallery below.