Live Photos and Gig Review Credit: Dave Burke (Photographer/Live Gig reporter)
On January 9th the City Winery Chicago took a break from it’s usual singer songwriter / acoustic fare to open their doors to punk icons the Misfits. The unusually late night show, doors at 11, was staged as a benefit for Chicago photographer and long time friend of the band John “Nunu” Zomot, who recently
suffered a major heart attack and is in need of assistance with mounting medical bills.
Formed in 1977 in Lodi New Jersey by singer / songwriter Glenn Danzig and bassist Jerry Only, The Misfits built on what The Ramones had started a year or two earlier, amping up the speed and infusing their songs with sci fi and horror imagery, topping it all off with Danzig’s Elvis and Jim Morrison inspired vocals. While history would show them to be an important influence on the burgeoning hardcore and thrash metal scenes the band was never able to land a major record deal and only released a handful of singles, EP’s and one full length album before disbanding in 1983.
After years of legal battles with Danzig over writing credits and ownership, Only was able to continue on using the band’s name, songs and “Crimson Ghost” skull logo. Since the mid 1990’s Only has been the one constant in the Misfits line up and has managed to release a handful of albums over the last several decades with a rotating roster of members, at times including former members of The Ramones, Black Flag and Only’s younger brother and Horror Punk icon Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein.
The current line up of Only (bass / vocals), his son Jerry Caiafa II (guitar) & Eric “Chupacabra” Arce (drums) took the stage around midnight and lead off with “Halloween” and other early classics, including “Astro Zombies”, “Horror Business” and “Hybrid Moments”. Though relying heavily on the early material, almost half their set featured songs from the post Danzig era. The 90’s albums “Famous Monsters” and “American Psycho” were well represented with the inclusion ”Saturday Night”, “Scream” and “Dig Up Her Bones” amongst other as well as several cuts from 2011’s “The Devils Rain”. For the most part the fans pressed against the stage knew all the words to songs old and new and responded well to both, though clearly favoring the early songs.
The band was tighter than I would have expected, based on a few Youtube clips I’ve seen and while not the powerhouse vocalist that Danzig or later singer Michael Graves are, Only does a respectable job singing the songs that they made famous. Where he really shines is the way he engages the fans, unlike
the menacing, brooding Danzig, Only is all smiles, chewing gum, winking, making eye contact, making the audiences feel that he’s just as excited to see them as they are him.
Having been to plenty of Punk and Metal shows, I was expecting the crowd to be much more intense, bordering on violent. To my pleasant surprise there was no body surfing, stage diving and only a small mosh pit at the back of the crowd of about 150. Most seemed to be happy to just sing along, high fiving and fist bumping each other and the band. At one point half way through the night Only pulled a young fan decked out in a Misfits “We Are 138” T – shirt and sporting the band’s signature hair style the “devillock”, on stage to duet with him. The band was also joined by 11 year old guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer for the song “Vampire Girl”. With the last notes of closer “Die, Die My Darling”, having barely cleared the air Only had his bass off and was at the foot of the stage signing anything handed to him, albums, t-shirts, posters, action figures. Again he seemed genuinely happy to interact with the fans, remembering many of them from previous trips through the area and not calling it a night until anyone who wanted a picture or autograph was satisfied.
Though they may be better known for their omnipresent skull logo, which can be found on a copious amount of merchandise, than their music and some argue that the current incarnation of the band is little more than a tribute band. It’s hard for me to fault them from caring on earning a living if it’s as fun as the show was Saturday night. If this is a typical present day Misfits show, I’d gladly go see them next time they come through town.