I don’t know how I could’ve missed him. Reports of sightings, often shared in huddled brags or glib tweets, were popping up all over the festival grounds. He’s over by the armored combat zone watching an 11th Century Japanese warrior battle a tenacious ten year old boy! He’s grimacing for Instagram pictures with his fans in front of the merch booth! He’s watching Bane! HE’S WATCHING BANE!
Even at This Is Hardcore, Philadelphia’s annual four-day multi-venue extravaganza celebrating the fiercer fringes of punk, a guy walking around in a spiky red-lined leather vest sporting aggressive eye makeup is gonna attract himself some attention. When that funny fella happens to be Jerry Only—the sole remaining Misfits founding partner—some folks are bound to get a bit excited. Of course, the people know to look out for him with all the intensity of an orange alert. After all, he’s here at the city’s 3,000-person capacity Electric Factory club to perform Earth A.D., his band’s aggressive and rightfully beloved 1983 sophomore album. And, yes, it’s his band, just in case that’s somehow unclear to you bums. Jerry’s got the receipts and lawyers’ fees to prove it.
Those who’ve followed along even passively understand the basics. The horror-themed band formed in the late 70s, made a couple dozen seminal hardcore punk songs inspired by the darkest corners of Satanic American life, then abruptly disbanded. The members moved on to new musical projects with names like Kryst The Conqueror and Samhain. In subsequent years, Only and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein squabbled with singer Glenn Danzig over the legal rights to the Misfits name and all its corresponding performance and merchandising opportunities. Around 1994 or 1995, the sides came to an agreement out-of-court which allowed the Brothers Caiafa to slap on the old makeup and pomade-slicked hairstyles as official Misfits again, while Glenn’s successful Danzig project would continue with what he trusted would be a long career of respectability, free of embarrassing kitty litter memes.
There are several compelling reasons why the Misfits aren't held in high esteem in 2015, perhaps too many to sufficiently list here. Still, the most common grievance of their detractors has to do with the lineup. Still, there’s no Glenn, nor Doyle—hell, not so much as a Robo—in today’s Misfits. The ‘95 reunion singer Michale Graves hasn’t been a member since the turn of the century. Dez Cadena of Black Flag played with Jerry for several years, as did Marky Ramone (of, duh, The Ramones), but alas, no longer. At This Is Hardcore, Jerry’s the lead singer and bassist, with his son Jerry Junior on guitar and a drummer nicknamed Chupacabra. To put this in terms our millennial readers might understand, the Earth A.D. incarnation of Misfits is like Seinfeld, whereas the 2015 version is Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. (By extension that makes 2015 Danzig like, uhhh, Veep, I guess.) Imagen Misfits never broke up and Jerry Only still making kitschy horror punk today. Imagen.
Now some 20 years since reviving his band, making a handful of albums of wildly varying quality, and playing live all across the civilized world, Jerry’s finally ready to cash in. And no, I’m not talking about the branded beer koozies, patches, stickers, limited edition toys, air fresheners, and other branded tchotchkes available for sale in the vendor zone at This Is Hardcore or through the band’s online Fiend Store. (Glenn unsuccessfully sued over trademark infringement and alleged monies owed for such merch in 2014.) A seasoned road dog, Jerry knows that his golden ticket to playing better venues and bigger festivals means at long last doing what so many lesser bands have done throughout the 00s: play classic albums live start to finish.
The Electric Factory performance of Earth A.D. follows a Californian dry run of what have become known in the music biz as “don’t look back” style shows, named for the recurring feature at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ events in the UK as well as elsewhere. During a three-night residency at The Observatory in Santa Ana, Jerry and the boys picked an unholy, unimpeachable Misfits trinity of records to anchor each gig. Fans could choose among Walk Among Us, Earth A.D., and Static Age, or pony up for a $60-plus-fees multi-pass for the whole She-bang. All of this is the precursor to a fall tour where the band will play some combination of these respective Misfits albums over the course of one- and two-night runs in select US cities. After that, one assumes Asia, Europe, Latin America, and every other part of the more-or-less free world is up for grabs.
The road to this $tate of affairs is a long and winding one. The founders’ adversarial relationship has made the sort of reunion their fans actually want an impossibility. In a 2013 Absolutepunk interview, Doyle revealed that he and his brother Jerry had previously flown out to Los Angeles to meet with Glenn to discuss a new album and tour together. Negotiations broke down at some point thereafter, but eventually the guitarist was tapped to rejoin his old friend as part of Danzig Legacy, a tour highlighting the notable stages of Glenn’s musical career. Each night features three segments, one for Danzig, another for Samhain, and a closing set of Misfits tunes. Doyle’s participation in these shows added the sort of respectability that Jerry’s Misfits now lacked, and created a greenback hell where competing versions were gigging, threatening to hit the same city mere days apart. Album-based shows now seemed the horror businessman’s sole recourse.
As roadies break down for the Cro-Mags and other roadies set up for the Electric Factory headliner, a large banner hangs as a backdrop, revealing the skeletal Misfits mascot you may have seen portrayed and even parodied at the merch booth. Just off to its right, a lengthy and large rock ‘n’ roll scroll proclaims all the groovy ghoulie tunes on deck in the order. (This transparency comes in handy later when nature calls.) A large Misfits sticker is emblazoned across Jerry’s bass amp head in case anyone in the room is unclear as to who they’re seeing.
Around midnight, the trio take to the stage and kick off with “Earth A.D.” just like the oversized setlist promised. Jerry’s wearing the familiar sleeveless spiky getup he’s been trotting around in throughout the day, its gaudy crimson collar like that of some Lower East Side vampire. The Captain America logo on his deconstructed T-shirt seems somewhat off, as does his version of "Queen Wasp." Theatrically, Jerry and Junior swap their respective sides of the stage for the second half of "Death Comes Ripping," for reasons unbeknownst to anyone. Junior sports a faux-bloodied tank top and the same mondo hairdo as his pops, albeit without the male pattern baldness. Chupacabra drums.
Jerry's been playing his songs with his band for so long he's got no reason to bother with impersonating Glenn. So, when he does, like some maudlin scenery chewing crooner on "Bloodfeast," it comes off entirely unnecessary. Because the truth is people here are loving it. Sure, the arm-crossing elitists and battered pit beasts have left, no doubt due to the late hour and the twelve hours of mostly quite good music that preceded it. But hardcore punks young and old have toughed it out. They don’t appear to care that it isn’t Glenn up there bellowing “Green Hell” or “Die Die Die My Darling.” They don’t even mind Jerry’s ridiculous horned cyclops skull affixed to his bass’ headstock. At his prompting, the audience shouts the refrain for “Mommy, Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight,” and with gusto. The kids are still moshing and pogoing. Greybeards chants the whoa-oh-oh bits of "Some Kinda Hate" like it was 1983.
Following the Earth A.D. optimal CD song sequence, no doubt the order most in the room are familiar with, the band wraps with “We Bite” and dives right into a set jam-packed with fan favorites from Walk Among Us and Static Age. Galloping classics like "Last Caress," "Where Eagles Dare" and "Teenagers From Mars" brings cathartic delight to the spunky fist-pumping contingent at the front of the stage. A young blonde woman standing next to me looked downright ecstatic during "Braineaters" and "Hybrid Moments," her hands clasped together. A little long-haired kiddo on daddy’s shoulders waves a fist while mouthing along. Nobody here begrudges a few 90s and 00s songs like “American Psycho” and “Scream,” the latter an impromptu set addition.
Despite the false start on "Hate Breeders," Jerry’s a crowd-pleasing machine. He’s also a gum chewer, something I notice when I get close enough during "Devil’s Whorehouse." But he can cram his mouth full of Big League Chew to his blackened heart’s content if it means we get to hear these songs live. Danzig Legacy may have had Doyle, but in practice it was and is an exercise in deprivation. Glenn’s decision to put the handful of Misfits numbers at the end of those sets only highlighted just how many more of those songs he didn’t play. (There were also times when late appearances and venue curfews meant that portion of the show was truncated.) Though ideally we’d all rather hear him singing over Jerry, only one of these guys seems truly interested in giving the fans what they want live.
Roughly an hour after taking the stage, Jerry hardly seems tired, howling his set closer “Halloween” for anyone’s who’s stuck around. The hair remains as intact as when he started. He psychically sucks the remaining energy from the dwindling crowd. You can get so close it’s almost unreal. But, no, he’s right up there. You can’t miss him.
Gary Suarez has a large collection of Misfits oven mitts. Follow him on Twitter.