Pre-concert expectations influence the enjoyment of a concert almost as much as the concert itself. If you go to a punk reunion show expecting the band to be as fiery and as youthful as they were in 1982, you're going to be disappointed. But, if you go to one of these reunion shows just to see a good show, you'll have a good time. This was especially true with the Misfits' show at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Halloween night.
Of course, these "Misfits" aren't actually "the Misfits;" Glenn Danzig, the driving force behind the original lineup isn't in the band. In fact, he left the band 23 years ago. Today, the Misfits are composed of original Misfits bassist Jerry Only, who now also handles vocals, guitarist Dez Cadena (ex-Black Flag, DC3) and drummer ROBO (ex-Black Flag) who appeared on the Misfits' 1983 album, Earth A.D.. Really, we could argue that the band is more Black Flag than Misfits, but we are going to accept that this lineup is the Misfits and move on.
Opening with what else but "Halloween," the Misfits wasted no time into tearing into their set list. Each song came in rapid succession with practically no chatter between each song. While album versions of Misfits' songs are an equal mix of machismo and melody, the live versions were minute-thirty blasts of ghoulish howls, growls, and scowls. Four years ago, when Only took up the vocalist position after Michale Graves left the band, his singing style consisted of yelling the lyrics like a pre-game huddle. However, in the past four years it seems that he has become more accustomed to the microphone and now conveys a depth of voice and carries the tone of the songs admirably, while keeping the chainsaw edge to the songs ever present. The interplay between soulful crooning and feral growling that is necessary to so many Misfits songs crawled up from Only's lungs when it really counted.
In compliment to this interplay of black and white noise, Dez Cadena displayed just what made the guitars and early vocals in Black Flag so unique: hardcore punk performed like jazz. With his deft use of discordance highlighted with scratchy vocals, the former Black Flag member kept the spirit of the songs intact while adding a few Dez-isms here and there. The baroque touches and subtle changes that Cadena created put the teeth back in the mouths of the songs which had been missing for about 10 years.
In contrast to the charging bass and epileptic guitar, the drums were powerful but steadily handled by ROBO. Preferring a minimalist approach, ROBO kept the drumming lean and steady except at key points where he embellished upon the songs with a flourish of cymbals, snares and bass drum. This style worked exceptionably well with the Misfits' already sparse songs, giving the drums more punch than if they rumbled non-stop.
Since the band is composed of members from various bands, the Misfits chose to select from a wide base of songs. Although the material weighed heavy on classic Misfits-era lineup, a few new Misfits songs were tossed into the mix for good measure. Dez and ROBO saluted their background by playing four Black Flag songs ("Jealous Again," "Six Pack," "Thirsty and Miserable," "Rise Above") with enough ferocity to make the Starland Ballroom circa 2006 feel like a closet size punk club circa 1981. Unfortunately, no Misfits: Project 1950 songs were played, which would have added another flavor to the recipe.
Of course, the ritual barb aimed at Glenn Danzig rose its ugly head, too. Jerry Only stated that the Misfits were shooting for another 20 years of playing and then dedicated the last song to people who "announce fake retirements" before launching into "Die, Die My Darling." Glenn Danzig, who recently stated that he may retire from touring in the near future, is bound to retaliate on his upcoming West Coast tour.
Songs played at double speed, members from multiple bands, and a little mud slinging all go together to make a new, interesting invention rather than a grotesque reproduction. If you go to the Misfits expecting that Elvis / Jim Morrison croon and comic book-style posing, you'll be disappointed. But, if you go to the Misfits expecting to see some great musicians play some great songs by some great bands, you'll have one heck of a Ghouls Night Out.