In the main concourse of the Forum in Inglewood on Saturday, Carlos Toro hiked up his shirt to show off a near full-sleeve tattoo of the Misfits’ grinning skull logo. “I’m in the Fiend Club for life, so I put it on my body,” he said, referencing the punk band’s sinister version of an old-school fan club. The 27-year-old started his own band, Proyecto Makabro, inspired by the Misfits’ blasts of fuzz and slasher-flick gore. But for Saturday’s Misfits reunion show, he was there to pay alms.
“The Misfits are immortal,” he said. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride, but punks never die.”
For 30-odd years, one could safely assume that the original Misfits would stay dead. The New Jersey group formed in the late ’70s and immediately invented a genre (horror-punk) that took the Ramones’ rowdy template and added some B-movie murder, front-swept haircuts and a touch of pre-Beatles crooning. It would make singer Glenn Danzig a touchstone for heavy music ever after, and yield maybe the most recognizable band logo in punk.
Danzig’s infighting with co-founding bassist Jerry Only dissolved the original group by the early ’80s. Only would later assemble new lineups, but most assumed that the core trio of Danzig, Only and Only’s brother, guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, would be consigned to misanthropic high-school notebook doodles thereafter.
That is, until the group suddenly joined the rock-reunion train at Chicago’s Riot Fest last year, and later booked a pair of New Year’s gigs in Las Vegas and L.A. Unlike the disgusting punk dives of their youth, these shows would instantly sell out their city’s biggest arenas. Punks may never die, but their resurrection still came as a shock.
“I thought it was just a rumor. We bought tickets immediately,” said Joey Valdez of Torrance. “It’s so crazy we get to see Danzig and Jerry Only. They’ve stood the test of time,” added Nattalie Tehrani, also from Torrance. “It’s also cool to see so many kids, there’s really all ages here.”
Backstage at the Forum, the crowd was old-punk-rocker bingo card. Greg Hetson, guitarist alum for the Circle Jerks and Bad Religion; actor/comedian and former hardcore drummer Fred Armisen; Josh Klinghoffer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Danny Fuentes, the gallerist and owner of the Westlake punk-rock boutique Lethal Amounts, corralled the guests and kept the frazzled peace as the Misfits’ newly minted tour manager.
As a pair of orange jack-o’-lanterns rose from the side of the stage, fans flooded the Forum floor. Guns N’ Roses had to reunite eventually, there was too much money involved. The original Misfits? No one thought they’d see this.
But there they were: Danzig, the longtime Los Feliz denizen still burly with a black mane to his waist; Jerry Only, in a wonderfully absurd suit of demonic armor; Doyle, pro-wrestler cut with a face of corpse paint and S&M straps for a shirt. Behind the drum kit, Dave Lombardo (formerly of Slayer and one of the greatest percussionists in heavy music) ensured that the tunes were in fine hands.
And then began two dozen of the most perfect songs in punk. “Death Comes Ripping,” “Where Eagles Dare,” “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?,” “Hybrid Moments.” More than the B-movie macabre, more than the merchandising, that’s what kept the Misfits lore alive. Danzig always sounded more like Roy Orbison than Johnny Rotten, and for all the band’s lurid noir, there was something genuinely emotional (even Americana) about the melodies.
For almost everyone at the Forum on Saturday, there was a time when seeing a Fiend Club patch on a leather jacket meant you’d found your tribe. That feeling never quite goes away, even decades later.
Danzig, as always, was Danzig. “Half these songs are about wanting to blow up the world, and the other half are about killing,” he told the crowd. “I’m glad you can relate.”
Even with a raspy sore throat, he railed against the media and touted the conspiracy-theory site BlackListed News as his most reliable source; he praised “Die, Die My Darling” as “one of the most un-PC songs ever made,” he introduced “Skulls” as a favorite of fans with a decapitation hobby. “It’s like you get an extra Halloween this year,” he said. “There should be 10 Halloweens.”
And to be honest, there was still a little transgressive thrill in being there. One 30-something fan in the crowd giddily recounted how he got suspended from middle school for wearing a Misfits’ T-shirt with the bloody Kennedy-assassination art for “Bullet.” And then they finally got to “Last Caress,” with its gleeful litany of violence and sock-hoppy nihilism, there may not be a more rapturous sing-along in rock.
Who knows how long they’ll keep at it. But after leaving the Forum, it was hard not to drive straight to the nearest tattoo shop and get that grinning skull inked somewhere.