Watching the original lineup of the Misfits perform at the massive Forum, this writer is reminded of other recent Misfits performances, and just how different they were. Until just a year or so ago, Jerry Only was the only one of the original members in the lineup, plus the likes of Dez Cadena from Black Flag and Marky Ramone of the Ramones. That band spend a couple of decades playing respected but relatively small venues around the world. For all intents and purposes, Only kept the brand alive, staying married to the Misfits legacy through thick and thin, for better and for worse.
For many, the worse outweighed the better. The recorded output was patchy, and Only’s voice (he started fronting the band well over a decade ago) was a bit of a let-down after the surprising artistic success of the period when Michale Graves fronted the band. But pretty much everyone, regardless of opinions about other incarnations of the band, was delighted when Only, singer Glenn Danzig, and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein put aside their differences, roped in Slayer/Dead Cross/etc drummer Dave Lombardo and second guitarist Acey Slade, and headlined the Denver and Chicago Riot Fests in 2016.
But there were plenty of us who couldn’t make those shows, so the announcement that the “original” Misfits would be playing a couple of gigs at the tail-end of 2017, in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, was met with widespread joy, and a tad of derision from those who remember seeing Misfits back in the day at punk dives for $5.
Yeah, there’s nothing punk about paying $25 for parking, $13.50 for a beer, $35 for a t-shirt and $30 for a fucking poster, all while your cellphone is locked away in a floppy case because the band doesn’t want to be faced with a sea of screens. Which is fair enough, by the way, but reports that you can get your phone unlocked in the lobby between bands prove to be exaggerated. Judging by Youtube the next day, people managed to beat the system anyway.
Despite all that, there was a celebratory atmosphere in the air with many people verbally exclaiming that they “can’t believe this is happening.” The openers managed to add to the party vibe too.
Discharge played a no-nonsense, brutal set and, even from our seat up high, we could almost feel Jeff Janiak’s hot spit as he belted out scuzzy punk classics like “Protest and Survive.” “Free Speech for the Dumb,” later covered by Metallica was notable in its absence, but still, this was a phenomenal set from the Brits. Las Vegas, by the way, had Fear open the show and that would have been amazing too.
Alkaline Trio played a greatest hits set, pulled largely from the Good Mourning album. The crowd was up for it all too, with songs like “Emma,” “All On Black,” and “This Could Be Love” raising the goth-punk atmosphere. Between Discharge and the Alkaline Trio, the stage was set quite perfectly for the music of the Misfits.
The entrance is kooky and fun. Two large, scowling pumpkins flank the stage and a creepy, groaning intro tape heralds the arrival of the band. There were reports after the Vegas show that Danzig was wheezing his way through the set; in L.A., he clearly has a cold or some issue that limits the amount of talking he can do between songs, but he sucks it up and brings every crowd favorite home.
And every song is a crowd fave. “Die, Die My Darling,” “Attitude,” “Hybrid Moments” — the tracks flash by while circle pits open up in the floor sections and security struggles to maintain control of those trying to jump the fences and get closer to the action.
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Lombardo might be one of the “new guys,” but his inclusion is inspirational. He winds up being the glue that bonds the whole noisy debacle together. Only is clearly having an amazing time; one suspects that he’s been dreaming of shows like this for years, and he naturally milks the hero worship flooding his way. Doyle stomps the stage like the beast that he is, and Danzig does a decent job despite the aforementioned health issues. Acey Slade does nothing wrong.
By the time the band gets to the closing “We Are 138,” the atmosphere is electric and the only downer is that it had to end. Whether this will be the start of a bigger reunion or a few one-off events remains to be seen. But the people that have seen the two shows this year, and the Riot Fest gigs last year, have seen something special.