Misfits/Madball - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Misfits / Madball

Live in Grand Rapids (1996)

live show

In reviews, as in life, timing is everything. Since it doesn’t look like we’re going to get many live shows in 2020, I will continue mining my long term memory banks, and maybe YouTube, to bring you reviews of the most memorable punk gigs of my youth. I had intended to take you all the way back to 1990 and DRI next, but since Michale Graves is back in the news, let’s set the time machine for 1996 instead.

Every self-respecting punk knows at least the basics about the history of the Misfits. Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, 1977, New Jersey, blah, blah, blah. After a bunch more members and a couple of stylistic shifts, the Misfits called it quits in 1983. Still, their legend only continued to grow. Their (stolen) Crimson Ghost logo never went away, and might be the most recognizable image in all of punkdom.

After years of legal wrangling, Only somehow got control of the Misfits name in 1995. After a few fits and starts, he also managed to put a fairly solid version of the band back together. His younger brother, and former Misfit Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein was on guitar. Fellow Garden Stater Dr. Chud played the drums. The hardest part would obviously be replacing legendary singer Danzig. After numerous auditions they settled on another New Jersey native, the then relatively unknown Michale Graves. If we’re being honest, Graves had a difficult, if not impossible task in front of him.

The reborn Misfits hit the road before they put out American Psycho in ‘97, and I caught them at the Reptile House in downtown Grand Rapids on July 25th of ‘96. The Reptile House was my favorite venue ever in GR. It was a long, narrow room at the corner of S.Division Ave and Cherry St. It was a bad neighborhood at the time, and you had to run the gauntlet of beggars and homeless just to get inside. (It’s still not a great part of town, but it’s much better than it was.) I had started going there in ‘92 when I was only 19, but they were usually pretty liberal about checking IDs.

I saw many memorable shows at the Reptile before it shut down for good in the late ‘90s. ALL, DRI, Elvis Hitler, Cutch, Anthrax, Entombed, TAD and DOA are just a few favorites that come to mind. Most nights included an excessive amount of $1 pints of their mysterious “skull” beer. (It turned out to be Natural Light!) Although the place was undeniably a dive, it was our dive. The bathrooms were nearly CBGBs disgusting, but the music was consistently good.

Local pals and street punks The Krabs opened this show. The Krabs are probably my all time favorite GR band. They were usually drunk and sloppy, but they almost always held it together. It was the best kind of chaotic noise. They put out two great 7”s, Punk Crock and Working Class, in the ‘90s. All four of them are still around the area, but they haven’t played for a couple of years. I saw and played with The Krabs many times over the years. I witnessed them play many great sets, and a few clunkers too, but I can’t remember their set from this night at all. Sorry guys.

I probably can’t remember The Krabs because there was so much else going on. The Reptile House was not a big place. It maybe held a couple hundred people. Needless to say, this show was packed. They opened up the room next door, an all ages venue called the Fallout Shelter, to accommodate the overflowing crowd. In the back of that room, Only and Doyle were very conspicuously lifting weights.

This was my first time seeing any version of the Misfits, and it was amazing. It was somewhere between a cartoon and professional wrestling. Most everyone was either trying to cautiously catch a glimpse, or strike up a conversation. In their defense, the makeup wearing hulks seemed friendly enough to anyone who dared to approach. It just added to the circus-like atmosphere. Meanwhile, there was a different drama unfolding on the stage.

I didn’t learn this until years later, but the middle band, Madball, had first been booked on this date. Later, when the club got a shot at the reconstituted Misfits, they couldn’t refuse. Rather than cancelling Madball, they justy stacked the bill. The problem came when the Misfits set up, and their props took up 90% of the small stage. Most of the other venues on the tour were five times the size of the Reptile. They just didn't have the room for this level of production. (A couple years later, the Misfits were scheduled to play at the old Intersection with one hit wonder Pist*on. They showed up, took one look at the stage, and bailed. That stage was much bigger than the Reptile’s.)

If you’ve ever seen Madball, then you know that singer Freddy Cricien runs around the stage like a maniac. He still does, even in his 40s. He was not pleased with the setup, and although he was literally half the size of Only and Doyle, he did not hold back. Of course, Cricien comes by his toughguy NYHC pedigree honestly. He’s the half brother of Agnostic Front singer and fellow New York hardcore legend Roger Miret, and has been in the scene since he was like 12.

*TRIGGER ALERT* At one point, Freddy Madball referred to the headliner as “those fucking Misfits faggots”. You’d never get away with that now, but it seemed funny at the time. We weren’t homophobic, but we weren’t as sensitive as folks are today. We also knew that it was a dis that actually had nothing to do with being gay. I’m not saying it was right, but you had to respect his fearlessness. Mostly, I just remember Madball playing a powerful, ferocious set. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Given Michale Graves recent social media rants, you might have expected the gay slurs to come from him, but he played it straight. The Misfits emerged, and stood there for a second basking in the crowd’s adoration. When they started into “Halloween”, all hell broke loose. The screaming and shouting along started, and rarely let up for the next hour or so. While everyone, well almost everyone, knew that it wasn’t Danzig singing, it didn’t really matter. Graves pulled it off vocally as well as visually. He seemed at ease mixing it up with the crowd.

When Only announced a new song, you could clearly hear someone yell “Don’t do it!”. (Was it a young, drunk, Tom Trauma? I’m actually not sure.) There were only two new songs in the set, “The Hunger” and “Blacklight” which would appear on American Psycho. Other than the recent “Original Misfits” shows, these 1996 shows were probably some of the best Misfits setlists ever. See for yourself.


Horror Business

I Turned Into a Martian

Death Comes Ripping

All Hell Breaks Loose

The Hunger

Static Age

TV Casualty

Hybrid Moments

Last Caress


Devil’s Whorehouse

Return of the Fly

Teenagers from Mars

Children in Heat

Violent World


Night of the Living Dead

20 Eyes

Hollywood Babylon

Horror Hotel

Ghouls Night Out


London Dungeon

Astro Zombies



We are 138

Green Hell

An old VHS recording of this show was only recently posted on YouTube. I’m pretty sure there are several songs missing, but you get the point. As the years went by, the setlist would get watered down with new Misfits songs. Toward the end of the Graves era, they were only playing a few classics. In hindsight, the Graves albums were OK ‘90s punk, but obviously don’t belong on the same pedestal as the Danzig stuff. That being said, later incarnations of the Misfits were worse. The Jerry Only/Dez Cadena/Marky Ramone lineup looked good on paper, but was really just a punk lounge act.

I would see the Graves fronted Misfits a couple more times, and the Only fronted MIsfits a couple of times. I also saw Danzig and Doyle do a Misfits set twice. I haven’t seen an “Original Misfits” reunion show, but if they ever play Detroit I’ll probably break down and go. I know that many of you would like me to trash talk Graves for his recent political rants, but in this context, I can’t. This show was just too damn good. A dream come true, really. While that dream would eventually turn sour, on this night it was nearly perfect.