It had been a long time since I had been to a punk show. Maybe it had been too long. I had practically forgotten what it was like to stand among the punk loyalists, to feel their visceral attitude. Metal, for all its harshness and machismo, is also sometimes guilty of being turgid with bravado and showmanship.
Punk, true punk, not the sparkly, image conscious punk of the past decade, is bereft of all the pomp and circumstance, and even though the Misfits have costumes and a decided image, there’s still something stripped down about them. The Misfits, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, the Ramones, MC5, Bad Brains; these are the names that signify the best of American punk rock.
I’m getting ahead of myself. The first band I saw was the Cro-Mags, another of the old classic punk bands, but one that failed to really explode onto the scene or gain the notoriety of their counterparts. The fire still exists in their performance however, as each song was played with grit and passion, culminating in a smashing and abrasive “Don’t Tread on Me,” as the crowd ceaselessly chanted for one more song. Armed with the bass player from Sick of it All (I love the interchangeable parts in the punk community,) the Cro-Mags played a fiery set and left everything on the stage.
All that left the crowd hungry for the Misfits, who did not disappoint. Jerry Only, Dez Cadena and Robo may all be in their late forties or more (Jerry himself is fifty,) but don’t tell them that their best days are behind them. They play with emotion, even while singing a less than emotional song like “Teenagers From Mars.” For them, whether it’s their legacy with the Misfits, or in the case of the other two, with Black Flag, playing punk rock is enjoyable, but serious un-business.
The Misfits played a workman-like hour set, taking very little time between songs, usually just enough to announce what the title of the next two minutes would be. At first, the hour long set seemed impossibly short, until it occurred to me that the band had played some thirty songs. For anyone else, that likely culminates in a three hour show. The set was decked out with the usual assortment of skulls, smoke-breathing gargoyles and a giant light up Crimson Ghost face. It was all the expected excesses of the Misfits, mixed up and threaded with an unforgiving night of classic American punk rock.
The setlist was a who’s who of Misfits classics, from the early Danzig-era songs like “Halloween,” “Earth AD,” and an awesome “We Are 138,” to the sing-along Graves hits “Dig Up Her Bones” and “Saturday Night.” Three Black Flag covers were mixed in, “Thirsty and Miserable,” “Jealous Again,” and “Rise Above.” The last was part of a fan favorite-studded encore, along with “Bullet,” a new song “Twilight of the Dead,” and a loud, screaming “Die, Die, My Darling” to finish.
It was a good night, as punk fans from all generations either relived old memories or made new ones. There was a genuine appreciation from the crowd for the band, and also from the band for the crowd. It was Robo’s last night with the band, and so Jerry finds himself in need of a new drummer. He’ll find one. He has more music left in him. In a last fit of virile youthful rage, Jerry threw his bass through the front of the kick drum to commemorate the end of the tour.
It was a night that reminded me that when all the excess and posturing is stripped away from heavy metal, some punk roots remain.