Before we get started, let me wish all you readers a very happy Halloween. Be safe, stay spooky, and rock on!
Okay, now to business.
The four opening acts—March To Victory, I Vampyre, The Sonic Creeps, PAIN!, and the touring group, She Demons—had all displayed their skills, paying homage to the band that paved the way for them decades ago. This was their night to carry the banner, if you will: a once in a lifetime chance to be ushers of music history. After all, this wasn’t just any Misfits tour. The band would be playing their first recorded album, Static Age, in its entirety for legions of fans both young and old.
And carry the banner they did. The thrashy March to Victory and black metal-influenced I Vampyre kicked off the show with dark and menacing performances, reminding us of The Misfits’ early influence on the sound and lyrical content of such legendary groups as Metallica, Megadeath, and Mötörhead.
Yet it was local punk favorites Sonic Creeps and PAIN! who showed their commitment to keeping the “punk” alive in horror-punk music, though both clearly share an affinity for two very separate eras in Misfits history. On the one hand Creeps’ frontman Johnny Shivers conjures the spirit of ’90s ‘Fits, particularly their then-vocalist Michael Graves. Like Graves, Shivers performs with all the demeanor of a post-apocalyptic, demon-possessed scarecrow. Clad in tattered and patched jeans, a distressed leather jacket, knee pads, and jack-o-lantern makeup, Shivers stole the show with his vocal gymnastics, able to transition from a somber baritone to a guttural screech flawlessly. On the other hand, Timmy Pain, co-founder and vocalist of PAIN!, has trained his voice into a demonic rockabilly croon, reminiscent of ‘Fits founder and former frontman, Glen Danzig, all the while violently launching himself into the audience and demanding fans to sing along.
Then came the She Demons. A group recently formed and managed by Mr. Only himself, She Demons are a self-proclaimed “all-girl band for this generation.” Yet for all their contemporary leanings, with catchy pop-infused riffs and embrace of millennial feminine sexiness popularized by rockers such as Taylor Momson and Maria Brink, there is still something distinctly vintage about their performance. Though many of their songs utilize pop-rock, or even pop-punk chord progressions, the group would unabashedly transition into doo-wop-infused melodies not unlike the Misfits themselves.
The energy that each of these early acts brought was substantial, with audience reactions ranging from simple headbanging to all out moshing.
Yes, you read that right…pits were initiated for the opening acts. If that wasn’t a sign to any newcomers of what to expect when the headliners themselves arrived, I don’t know what is. And let me warn you, dear readers, if you ever plan to see the ‘Fits live in Baltimore then be prepared: the natives get downright brutal.
Even before the music started, the stage was set for something akin to a Halloween attraction such as Kim’s Krypt or a well put together haunted hayride.
There were plastic props and decorations resembling aged Gothic architecture. Hidden fog machines sent a cemetery mist over the neon-lit world: the blue of a cloudy autumn midnight; the red of a moon at the end of the world. The drum kit, soon to be played by former Murphy’s Law percussionist Eric “Goat” Arce, stood atop a faux stone turret like something taken off Dracula’s castle or some Medieval torture chamber and decorated with the iconic Crimson Ghost’s image. Lastly, a decapitated skeleton hung impaled on Only’s mic stand, while the adjacent stand was itself a formless amalgamation of mold-colored bones.
The only introduction the band allowed themselves was the growl of prerecorded thunder. As the lights dimmed and the eyes of the skulls adorning the pillars surrounding the drum kit began to glow a fiery orange, the Crimson Ghost himself, decked in a black executioner’s robe, ushered in Jerry and his crew.
And that was all, but it was enough.
The band immediately exploded into their set list, spending no more than a minute per song, finishing the entire Static Age album in under 15 minutes—just briefly announcing each song’s title in shouts of “There’s some kinda love, and there’s Some Kinda Hate!” or simply “Theme for a Jackal!” After running through their first album, frontman Only finally paused to talk about the band’s first released single predating SA, “She,” before playing it and then a myriad of other favorites from every era in the band’s history: from Walk Among Us’ “Skulls” to American Psycho’s “Dig Up Her Bones.”
What songs were played exactly is something of a mystery to me. This is not because the set list was inadequate in any way. Far from it. The reason is because as soon as the ‘Fits played their first note, the entire floor became a massive mosh pit, rendering it nearly impossible to pay attention to much else beside keeping in one piece. In fact, things became so chaotic, a burly man actually lifted my skinny ass up and used me as a battering ram as he charged the army of moshers before him. Not that I’m complaining. The show was fast, aggressive, and dangerously fun; I was just as much a part of the pit as any other fiend in attendance.
However, this hodgepodge of hits was a welcome treat.
To say that the Misfits‘ history has been steeped in controversy would be a gross understatement. With the band members numerous legal battles between founding members Danzig and Only, constant lineup changes, and at times overtly capitalist business practices, it’s no wonder why a brief internet search will yield many complaints that the band’s most recent incarnation is little more than a nostalgia act.
This has always seemed odd to me, however. There is really nothing inherently original about this genre. Nor has there ever been. It’s true that, over the decades, the band’s sound has changed as frequently as its lineup. And just as no two albums ever featured the same members, they rarely featured the same sound either: encompassing garage punk, hardcore, thrash, black-metal, alternative, and more. Yet all the while, throughout these changes, the band has always kept one foot in the past. And that’s not a bad thing.
As acclaimed horror novelist Clive Barker explains in the introduction to his novel The Damnation Game, “I think the merit of a tale is not its originality … but in the intensity of its telling, which may momentarily unseat all expectations.” Though he was talking about the craft of writing fiction, his point stands true for all art—especially this one. And like Pablo Picasso probably once stated, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” What he meant by this was that no creation is ever formed in a vacuum. All art is created in homage to art from the past, whether the artist does so intentionally or not.
In this regard, nostalgia has been at the roots or horror-punk from the moment Danzig decided to take his admiration of Elvis Presley and merge it with his fascination with vintage B-movies. By taking what has been established and tweaking it, reforming it just enough to suit one’s own vision, horror-punk bands like the Misfits, Sonic Creeps, PAIN!, and the like keep the genre current to new generations—injected with energy Re-Animator-style and thus maintaining its zombie-like indestructibility—all to remind us why it can be fun to embrace the darkness from time to time. And that is precisely what we got at the show.