Madison Square Garden, New York, NY — For most of their existence, and especially since the market for recorded music collapsed, the Misfits have been more of a fashion brand than anything, their logo adorning virtually any object that could conceivably accessorize with a shade of Manic Panic or a pair of Doc Martens. The unlikelihood of a proper Misfits reunion stemmed from the decades-long feud between founding members Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only over how those sweet merch profits should be split. When they finally buried the hatchet and announced their long-awaited reunion in 2016, I hopped a plane to Chicago without hesitation, but their 2019 Madison Square Garden show begged the question of how many Misfits reunion shows I really need to attend.
The steep ticket prices (compared to what I’m used to) characteristically gave me pause, but when I thought about how little I’ve spent on the Misfits over many, many years of enjoyment, that became less of a concern. Nobody’s pretending this reunion isn’t a cash grab; fuck it, take my money.
More at issue was the essence and quality of the experience. The particulars of their Riot Fest appearance were lost to me in the delirium of the moment—I was too busy screaming along with one of my all-time favorite bands to notice if their reconstituted form was actually any good. This time around, in the sizable distance between the stage and my seat at the opposite end of the arena, I had more opportunity to reflect on what was happening and what it meant to me.
Glenn Danzig’s songwriting and voice are the heart and soul of the Misfits. Theoretically, if he’s singing Misfits songs, it doesn’t matter who’s in the band backing him up. But if that were all there was to a live Misfits experience, I would have been satisfied on the multiple occasions I’ve seen Glenn perform Misfits songs with his eponymous band. But it wasn’t the same. Why? It was missing the iconic, brutish stage presence of the Caifa brothers (Jerry Only and his brother Doyle), who are, quite literally, the meat of the band. I saw their Misfits “reunion” band a few times in the ’90s, and they did a great job of looking the part: all muscles and leather and spikes and custom-built pointy guitars, with painted faces bisected by their signature devilocks. But without Glenn’s powerful baritone, they didn’t really have any business calling themselves the Misfits.
Glenn’s reunion with Jerry and Doyle is a big deal to fans because the live Misfits experience is necessarily audiovisual: We want to hear Glenn and see Jerry and Doyle. In that respect, Madison Square Garden offered a mixed bag.
I could certainly hear Glenn, and he sounded great, though I marveled, as I always do, at how much more effective he would be if he didn’t directly address the audience. If there’s a distinction to be made between performance and showmanship, he’s much more a master of the former than the latter. You wouldn’t expect a guy four decades into the game to commit the cardinal sin of announcing what the final song of the set will be three songs in advance, but that’s Glenn. His stage banter is both affable and awkward, betraying a certain social unease. He truly is a misfit, which makes the confidence of his songcraft and singing voice stand out that much more.
As for Jerry and Doyle, they stalked the stage like the hulks they are, and I gather they did it very effectively. I was able to ascertain that Jerry is now really into doing absurdly long knees slides, and that he destroyed at least a half dozen of his signature Devastator basses, whose remains now belong to a few extremely lucky people in the front row. Doyle pounded on his guitar in his recognizable manner, as if he were Boris Karloff trying to crack a coconut. (The addition of a seemingly superfluous second guitar player raised the reasonable suspicion that Doyle was not even plugged in, and having thrash legend Dave Lombardo on the drums was likewise comical overkill for such undemanding songs.) But apart from those bigger movements, I just couldn’t see very well from where I was.
And that’s where these reunion shows fall down. I’m sure headlining Madison Square Garden was a huge deal for everyone in the band, and Glenn was happy to point out that such a thing was unthinkable back in the day. I’m truly glad they’re now able to experience the validation of drawing crowds this big, and a handful of festival and arena dates will presumably get them paid a lot more than a whole tour of mid-sized venues would. Glenn Danzig is 64 years old, and if he wants to capitalize on this thing he made years ago that’s brought me so much joy, I’ll take what I can get. But none of this changes the fact that an arena is a crappy place to see a punk rock show, especially if you’re unwilling or unable to shell out the big bucks for a floor ticket.
I guess that means that if I’m going to do this again, I’ll have to pay up to get closer to the stage and/or the Misfits will have to play somewhere smaller. I don’t think either of those things is going to happen. That said, if this is goodbye, it’s not the first time I’ve said it. But if it’s the last, I think I can say that my live Misfits itch has been scratched about as well as could be expected.