Riot Fest - Denver:  Day Three (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Riot Fest

Denver: Day Three (2016)

live show

How do you review a historical event? How do you review something that literally became headline news in all the major music news publications the day it was announced, and which was on everyone’s Facebook wall the day after it happened? If I ever get my hands on a time machine, I’m definitely stopping in to see the Ramones at CBGB’s in 1975, followed immediately by The Clash at Bond’s Casino in 1981. Actually, I might do those in the opposite order. But unless PunkNews specifically obtains the time machine for me and my access to that time machine is contingent on me reviewing these shows, I’m not writing reviews for those concerts, because I could never be objective. My joy at being able to see those shows that I never thought I would be able to see would be a significant factor in the experience. I would not be able to objectively judge whether the performers were any good. Well, I’m sorry, but The Misfits’ first concert in 33 years is on par with getting that time machine in my book. But be forewarned, it’s hard to review history.

I was excited to see the moderately obscure girl-group style pop punkers, Bleached.

Bleached were the most enthusiastic band to play to a small crowd that I saw all weekend. The band announced from the stage how excited they were to “play with the Misfits.” I don’t know if playing a different stage about three hours before the Misfits counts as playing with them, but whatever it was that fueled their performance, it was worth it. Frontwoman Jennifer Francis Clavin was energetic and enthusiastic as she danced and at one point writhed around the stage on her knees and back. Considering she was wearing a dress and was directly in front of the photo pit, I worried about what kind of pictures they were going to get of her, but she seemed unconcerned as she put all of her energy into her performance, even swapping out instruments with the drummer at one point to give us some furious drumming. Bleached is a band to watch out for in years to come.

Bad Religion played shortly after, and it was maybe the fifth or sixth time I’ve ever seen them. At this point, I feel like the best word to describe a Bad Religion performance is “solid.” After three decades, they aren’t going to bring the most energetic, fresh, and new performance of a festival like this, but they’re going to put on a solidly good performance for their age and pull from a huge catalogue of quality music.

But for many people, the Bad Religion performance was an obstacle to get through before the main act. Bad Religion played on the same stage that the Misfits were going to play on that night, and many people seemed to be getting into the crowd for Bad Religion so they could reserve their spot for The Misfits. After Bad Religion finished, Gogol Bordello started on the next stage over. I quickly returned to the crowd that was waiting for the Misfits, and I have to say that the crowd for Gogol Bordello was actually pretty sizable, despite everyone back in the waiting Misfits crowd who were pondering “Is anyone even over there for that band?” The artist I was wondering more about was Nas, who would be playing on the opposite side of the festival at the same time as the Misfits. Unless you shelled out the money for a one day ticket specifically to see Nas and skipped pretty much everything else in the whole festival, you were probably over watching the Misfits instead.

There was a black sheet covering the stage as the Misfits setup, and as it dropped, the crowd erupted into the most violent crowd I had ever been a part of, and I’ve been a part of some violent crowds. With people packed together like sardines, there was no room for mosh pits, but that didn’t stop people from trying to form them.

The stage was covered with all sorts of Halloween-ish camp, complete with a giant jack-o-lantern that towered over even the huge frames of Doyle, Danzig, and Jerry Only. Someone next to me in the crowd had predicted that the band would come out to some Satanic prayer read in Latin, but I think that that missed the point of what the Misfits were. The Misfits were never about true darkness and evil, but were more about darkness and evil as seen through the eyes of a B-movie horror film. So I thought the Halloweenish décor (not to mention the grown men in Halloween makeup in early September) worked perfectly with the true spirit of what the original Misfits were.

In addition to the three core members of the Misfits, Dave Lombardo of Slayer joined them on drums, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts bassist Acey Slade joined them for some additional rhythm guitar. And thus began the first performance of the Misfits since Halloween 1983, when I was literally a fetus.

It’s a great thing that all three of these core members continued to play music in the years since the breakup of the original band, because it meant that the songs were played with more technical proficiency than they ever could have hoped for the last time they played together. Doyle, in particular, played a fast and furious guitar like it was some sort of out-of-control animal that he was taming. Songs sped up and became louder and more powerful than I ever imagined they could be.

The set tried to cover as much as they could of different eras of the original Misfits, but tended to bundle songs form the same era into short little mini-sets. They would, for example, play about a half dozen songs from Walk Among Us, followed by another five or six from Earth A.D., then a handful from Static Age, then maybe back to Walk Among Us for a while, then maybe one of the early singles, something like that. I was so happy to hear my favorite Misfits song, “Teenagers from Mars,” despite the irony of the fact that nobody on that stage had seen their teen years in decades. Danzig made sure to remark on how long it had been since he had performed some of these songs but, for all of his distance from the material, he showed no signs of being bored or uninterested in what he was singing.

That was the surprising beauty of it all. Two different lead singers for the Misfits have quit the band mid-concert, so going into the show, I was half expecting the band to begin fighting on stage, or for someone to walk off halfway through and end the show early, leaving Riot Fest Chicago in the lurch. I imagined something like that scene at the end of Hard Core Logo where two members of the band start fighting with each other, while a third has a mental breakdown and starts chanting the word “love” over and over again on the microphone (somehow I imagine Doyle being the one to do that). Instead, Danzig and Jerry, two men who have spent nearly three decades communicating with each other primarily through lawyers, looked like the best of friends. At one point, they joined hands and put them up in the air as Danzig bragged about the band’s early days and how far out of left-field this band seemed to everyone else in the punk scene, and what trailblazers they were. There were a few moments here and there where some of the band members seemed to get annoyed at slight miscues from behind-the-scenes staff as well as their drummer and rhythm guitarist, but these moments of annoyance that might have ended a Misfits show when they were younger and more immature were quickly shrugged off and the show continued triumphantly. The band kept playing until they were legally barred from playing one more note due to curfew laws, and they still left a crowd of people begging them to break the law and perform another encore.

And thus ended the fourth consecutive Riot Fest in Denver, as we all poured out into the streets in awe of what we had just seen. While not every moment of Riot Fest is perfect, it’s still probably the strongest running music festival today, especially with its exceptional talent for reuniting bands. I certainly hope this isn’t the last time we’ll be surprised by a big, seemingly impossible reunion at Riot Fest (Riot Fest staff, if you’re reading this: Talking Heads, please!) but none is likely to top the monumental reunion of the Misfits. I would have been less surprised if I had heard that Riot Fest had negotiated a peace between Israel and Palestine than I was to hear they negotiated a peace between Danzig and Jerry Only, and it’s what made Riot Fest 2016 an experience that all attendees will remember forever.