The Misfits originally existed from 1977 to 1983. Formed by Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only our of Lodi, NJ, the band cycled through guitarists and drummers for much of its existence before finally disbanding. By then, Only’s younger brother Doyle was a fixture on guitar and the two represented the visual core of the band while Danzig’s songs carried the day. Like what has befallen many artists, they weren’t appreciated during their day, but years later it would become obvious how influential the group was in the punk, metal, and hardcore scenes. Following the band’s demise, Danzig went on to front other bands, most famously the one that bares his namesake – Danzig. During these years he never stopped re-releasing old Misfits material. During the band’s life it struggled to find record deals, but with the music done, recorded and previously released, Danzig found a partner in Caroline Records willing to press CDs and re-release the old stuff. Eventually the band found an audience, and Caroline was willing to release basically anything Danzig could produce.
By this point we were in the early 90s. Jerry Only had tried, and failed, at music with his Kryst the Conqueror outfit and had returned to the family business – a machine shop, to make his living. Danzig had been re-releasing the old material without paying anyone often trying to skirt responsibility by over-dubbing a lot of the music himself. Since he held the sole song-writing credits, this likely was good enough for Caroline. And while sales were low, it likely was, but as the band’s profile was raised (due in large part to famous covers by the likes of Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses) this proved untenable. Legal issues ensued, and one proposed resolution was to simply reform the band. At this point in time, Danzig the band had pretty much disbanded with the original record deal expired. Danzig though had a lucrative offer from Hollywood Records and wasn’t interested in re-forming the band. Maybe if Only’s invitation had come after the commercial failure of Blackacidevil things would have been different, but instead Only and Doyle reformed the band without Danzig. From this point on, essentially two versions of The Misfits had existed; the original from ’77-’83, and the one that reformed in 1995.
Jerry Only’s Misfits enjoyed its share of success while Danzig kept plugging along with his band. Jerry’s Misfits proved to be plagued by a lot of the same issues as the original. After releasing two albums with the same lineup, the band went through a lot of changes and turmoil with Only being the only consistent (no pun intended) with even Doyle eventually leaving the band. With just Jerry, he basically assumed all song-writing duties as well as vocals. His Misfits have continued right along up until the present day, and he and Glenn have co-existed in their own bubbles for the most part while sometimes dodging reunion rumors here and there. They were strongest in ’02, and according to Doyle they had a tentative agreement that fell apart at the last minute, but nothing imminent ever made it into the public. Danzig and Doyle had long since reconciled and he would occasionally join Danzig on stage for some Misfits songs, most famously during Danzig’s Legacy shows.
All the while legal issues continued to pop-up here and there. The biggest one was Danzig’s claim that Only had made a licensing agreement with Hot Topic and other retailers that made him the sole provider of Misfits merchandise. Absent a reunion, the Misfits likeness was its most profitable feature and both Only and Danzig were able to make use of it to sell merchandise. Only’s deal would have meant that stores wouldn’t sell Misfits related memorabilia from Glenn, and he would understandably find that irritating. These issues were partially litigated in public since a lawsuit by Danzig against Only was made public. This issue is largely credited as being the thing that got Danzig and Only talking once again about a reunion. Both guys had seen their output dwindle by quite a bit, and approaching 60, there was an end in sight for both. A full on Misfits reunion was a way for both men to settle their differences and make a lot of money in the process, which is what lead to the creation of The Original Misfits.
Promoters for the annual festival Riot Fest reportedly had been seeking a Misfits reunion for a few years. Danzig’s Legacy gig originated from there and it was clear there was an audience for it. In 2016, the timing was right for the group to reform and headline two editions of Riot Fest in Chicago and Denver. Danzig and Only were joined once more by Doyle on guitar while former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo was brought in to finally give the band the drummer it sought for so long. Former Joan Jet bassist Acey Slade was added on guitar to round things out, freeing Doyle up to just do what he does best and stomp around onstage smashing the hell out of his guitar. The shows were a pretty big hit, and a Los Angeles show and a Las Vegas show followed at the end of 2017 and just this past weekend the band finally returned to where it all started, New Jersey, for a show at The Prudential Center.
For fans like me, this was a chance to see something I never really thought I would get to see. The Misfits disbanded before I was even born and I came to find them around the time that I was 13. I was just the right age to be seduced by their brand of melodious violence, the horror imagery was appealing and counter-culture and I soon consumed anything Misfits I could get my hands on. The lone exception was the recently released American Psycho LP. Fronted by Michale Graves and not Glenn Danzig meant that I just wasn’t interested. I bore the group no ill will, but I didn’t want a Misfits without Danzig. Eventually I turned to the band, Danzig, for my fix. I didn’t know if I liked that group at first, because it was so different, but eventually I grew to love Danzig even more than I had The Misfits.
Over the years, I’ve seen Danzig numerous times, but it’s never squashed my desire to see a proper Misfits show. Seeing Glenn with Doyle was good enough, or so I thought. My desire to see The Misfits on stage was less about needing Jerry Only there (no disrespect to him), but more about just wanting to see a proper full set of the songs I grew up on. Danzig was always quick to shoot down any rumor talk and many times went as far as to say it would never happen, and I took his word on it. I’m happy to say I was foolish to do so. Still, my responsibilities to my family first meant I couldn’t drop money on tickets, airfare, lodging, and other expenses to fly out and see any of the announced reunion shows. I kept faith though that The Misfits would eventually play a show on the east coast, and my faith was rewarded. New Jersey is about a four hour car ride from my home in Massachusetts, but my best friend lives in the city so not only did I have a place to crash, but a buddy to attend the show with me. This being potentially my only chance, I jumped on the tickets when they went onside and I’m happy to report it was worth it.
On Saturday May 19th, 2018, I saw The Misfits live onstage. I never thought I would, and it was kind of a surreal experience for me. Preceding The Misfits was Harley Flanagan, Murphy’s Law, and Suicidal Tendencies – all bands/personalities that could be considered peers of the original Misfits. I’m not fans of any of the bands, but their appearance on this bill felt very appropriate and all were entertaining in their own right. Especially cool was Jimmy of Muphy’s Law stopping a song to pull a kid out of the pit because he was getting crushed. He placed the lad on the edge of the stage where he enjoyed the rest of the set from. Following that, he got to disappear backstage for what was hopefully an experience he’ll remember for a long time.
By the time The Misfits took the stage it was after 9 o’clock and the city of Newark apparently has a strict curfew of 11:00 PM for concerts. That didn’t stop the band from ripping through its set and going beyond 11 during the encore. The stage was adorned with numerous Crimson Ghost visages as well as two massive jack-o-lanterns from the cover of the Halloween single. Backing the stage was a screen that displayed classic horror clips, most of them serving as the inspiration for the song being played, that added a nice element to the performance. When the band hit the stage, with Only and Doyle emerging from twin coffins that flanked the drum riser, they tore into “Death Comes Ripping” with the same ferocity they must have brought back in ’83. Danzig emerged last to a raucous audience ready to sing along and go nuts.
Back in the day, The Misfits never played a venue as cavernous as the Prudential Center in Newark. Some 15,000 were in attendance for the sold out show, and even though this was their fifth go at it, the sound mix didn’t appear suited for such a large venue. The reverb on the guitar and bass was thunderous and Danzig’s vocals were drowned out. The reverb was so oppressive that it was hard to even make out what song was being played. I frequently strained to hear the individual notes in the early going, since I could hardly make out the vocals to be certain, and I’ve heard all of these songs probably a thousand times at this point. Danzig’s between song banter was often indecipherable, with only a few words here and there being discernible, which is unfortunate because he would often have to stall for time as Doyle tried to get his guitar back in tune or Jerry fetched a new bass, having destroyed the prior one (I think he ended up using five in total, but I could be mistaken). After a few songs things did settle down. The vocals became more pronounced, though the between song issues were never fully solved.
The Misfits played for over an hour and hit on most of their classic material. For me, it was a real treat to finally hear a live rendition of “Where Eagles Dare,” a favorite of mine for a long time. The band did a great job of hitting all of its eras, the early days as well as the waning ones, with material from Static Age, Walk Among Us, and Earth AD all well represented with 9 of my personal top 10 being played. There’s always room to nitpick, I would have loved to hear “Spinal Remains” or “Devil’s Whorehouse,” but there were few songs I would have kicked out in their place. The only true omission was “We Are 138” which had been performed at the other shows, but the curfew may have messed that up. I still feel like we were sort of denied a great sing-along moment though.
Physically, Jerry Only and Doyle are just as imposing as ever. Now well past their supposed physical prime, you would never know it by looking at them. Doyle is still quite the specimen and his gigantic boots means he towers over the stage. Jerry’s coat adorned with spikes and skulls looks great, and he has the energy of a man half his age as he ran around, and at one point slid across, the stage. Danzig, being the one I’m most familiar with, still shows no signs of slowing down physically as he bounded around the stage ready to mix it up with the folks in attendance. The whole band appeared to be in great spirits, and both Lombardo and Slade more than held their own with the original members. The venue banned cell phones, having patrons lock them up in these little magnetic pouches for the duration of the show, but that didn’t stop some folks from ripping them out for a pic or two here and there. It was rather nice to be at a concert where the horizon was not dotted by thousands of illuminated screens, though I’ll admit I missed the light on my phone for when it came time to find my seat.
The Original Misfits was not a cheap ticket. The average price was probably around 100 dollars and general admission tickets were as much as $200. Despite that, the merchandise was surprisingly reasonably with t-shirts the usual concert price of $35 for most sizes. There was also a signed poster available for $100 (unsigned ones were $30) that bore both the signatures of Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only. Normally I would be tempted by such, but I resisted this time. Numerous t-shirt designs commemorated the event and basically every person I saw walked out that night with at least one of them. My personal favorite was the one depicting skeletal riders on horseback with the Statue of Liberty looming in the background, its face replaced by the unmistakable Fiend logo (this was the same image used for the poster as well), though the one used to promote the event was also pretty cool and featured the outline of the state of NJ with the Fiend filling it in.
Seeing The Misfits after being a fan for more than half of my life was an exhilarating experience and well worth both the expense and the horrendous backache as the result of too much time spent in the car. I left feeling both lucky and grateful that I got to experience it with my best friend, though I did wish a bunch of my friends from back in the day that had shared in my fandom could have been there with me. The event was made even more poignant by the revelation that just hours before the show Glenn Danzig’s mother passed away. He would have been well within his right to cancel the show, but he chose to go on. It added a little gravitas to the numerous backslaps I saw him receiving from his bandmates throughout the show. If this is the end for The Misfits as constituted then it feels like a fitting way to go out back where it all began. The rational person within me though sees how much money this event must have made and wonders how the band could possibly turn down future pay days like this one. There very well could be more one-offs in the future as there is likely still an intense appetite for The Misfits all across the world. They’ve yet to do a show down south and they also have yet to take this thing out of the US. Could they headline a festival in Europe or South America? Possibly. All questions to be answered in due time. For now, I’m satisfied having finally seen a band I grew up with for the first time, and maybe the last time.
The Set List (*encore)
- Death Comes Ripping
- I Turned Into A Martian
- 20 Eyes
- Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?
- Where Eagles Dare
- London Dungeon
- Hybrid Moments
- Teenagers From Mars
- Earth A.D.
- Horror Business
- Hollywood Babylon
- Who Killed Marilyn?
- Green Hell
- Die, Die My Darling
- Astro Zombies
- Last Caress
- Night of the Living Dead*
- Some Kinda Hate*
- Violent World*
- All Hell Breaks Loose*