When the Austin hardcore punk band the Stains played their first Los Angeles show in 1981, they were dismayed at the presence of another Stains on the bill, bringing to three the number of hardcore punk bands with that name. When Dicks bassist Buxf Parrot suggested “Millions of Dead Cops,” the now-former Texas Stains took it and ran. After a five-year hiatus between 1995 and 2000, the band reformed with three of four original members, added a new bassist and guitarist, and hit the road anew. Fittingly, the dour self-declared anarchists play Reggies Rock Club this May Day, a few days before the 123rd anniversary of the Haymarket Riot.
Between its length and the troubles it caused with police, Millions of Dead Cops didn’t last as a name. MDC became the group’s new moniker “for posters and parents,” and took on a new meaning with every album after their self-titled debut. “Multi-Death Corporations” was followed by “Millions of Dead Children,” then “Millions of Damn Christians,” “Metal Devil Cokes,” and “Millions of Dead Cops” again several times. “Millions of Dead Contractors” had a brief tenure, and now the band is back to plain MDC. So do they actually encourage listeners to kill cops? In a word, no–as singer Dave Dictor explained in a recent interview, “It’s understanding why someone would go so far as to kill a cop. This is poetic license. I write songs about the angst of a police society.”
Cops were never the only target of MDC’s ire. Mothers on drugs, soft drinks, factory farmers, Christians, Bob Avakian’s cult-like Revolutionary Communist Party, businessmen, homophobes, and the DC hardcore band Bad Brains all earned spiteful tributes. Their first single, “John Wayne Was a Nazi,” is a representative sample of their phlegmatic agitation. Leaping from the unintentionally hilarious–“John Wayne was a Nazi/He liked to play SS/Kept a picture of Adolf ol’ boy/Tucked in his cowboy vest”–to the bombastic–“John Wayne slaughtered our Indian brothers/Burned their villages and raped their mothers/Now he has given them a white man’s lord/Live by this, or die by my sword”–without once emitting a catchy riff, MDC developed a reputation as a mediocre band, despite a modest national following.
More cynically, MDC was known for trading in other people’s outrage. When Bad Brains left another band’s singer a nastily homophobic note instead of money they owed him, it was MDC, not the other band, that wrote songs against Bad Brains and attacked them in every interview they got, long after Bad Brains exited the hardcore scene and devolved into an increasingly erratic and drug-addled reggae unit. No surprise that MDC’s real contribution was radicalizing punk. Not that they were the only ones involved, of course, but together with the rather less humorless Californians the Dicks and Dead Kennedys, they popularized veganism, made peace with hippies, and created a template for the boring punk diatribe. And thus in 2009, bands are still complaining about Reagan. But age-mellowed MDC took no pleasure in the politicization of the scene and, in Dictor’s words, the domination of “this self-righteous zealousness…[and] nitpicking.”
For this Friday’s show, MDC has a slightly broader repertoire to draw from. Take “Knucklehead” off “Metal Devil Cokes” (“I’m a knucklehead, you’re a knucklehead, we’re all knuckleheads”), an album named by drummer Dejan Podobnik’s young son. As middle-aged men, they’re inevitably nostalgic, hence the tributes to the salad days of Maximumrocknroll magazine and the rants against the “poseur punks.” MDC might not strut like spring, but they never were terribly kinetic in their prime. At a minimum, they won’t play “Free Bird.”
Reggies Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. May 1. Friday, 6pm and 10pm. (312)949-0121. $10. reggieslive.com