When I found out the Misfits were going to be playing at the Factory Theatre on January 19th, my last night back in Sydney, I bought my ticket almost immediately. The almost 30-year-old hardcore punk band embodies everything I love about the genre: its members are loud, irreverent, and furiously manic, yet always cracking a smile at the same time.
The only problem is that most of that love is directed at their late ’70s and early ’80s work, back when the group was headlined by Glenn Danzig; that includes all the tracks in the album The Collection. For those who aren’t familiar with the history, most of the group jumped ship in the 1983, leaving then bassist Jerry Only to resurrect the group in 1995. All the band’s work since then has just lost the punch of the original group, resulting in more of a dull metal sound than anything else.
My wariness was best summed up with a remark a friend of mine made when I told him about the upcoming show: “Misfits, huh? That sounds like they would have been really great to see thirty years ago.”
To get into the Factory Theatre, you first need to walk through a courtyard that doubles as a bar. The crowd that hung around, idly smoking and drinking beer as it waited for the opening acts to finish, was precisely the weird collection of characters you would want to see at a Misfits shows. People were dressed in spiked leather jackets, skeleton jumpsuits, and, in one case, a leopard print trench coat. There were Goths hanging around in one corner of the yard and a colorful neo-rockabilly crowd in the other. Then, of course, there was the all too familiar skull that serves as the Misfit’s logo, grinning on at least a third of the shirts being worn.
It was a good sign. When we heard the end of the opening act, a decent metal band called Horrorwood Mannequins, everyone filed into the Theatre. After a while, smoke started to fill the stage, and then came flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder. Then the show began.
From the moment he silently emerged on stage and picked up the bass, it was bassist Only’s show. Dressed in his trademark spiked shoulder pads and a sleeveless leather jacket that showed off his intimidating body builder physic, Only approached the night with the same sensibilities as a masked luchador wrestler. He riled up the crowd and tried to get everyone as pumped up as possible, whether by launching playful insults, placing his hand to his ear to encourage the wild cheering, or just throwing a couple of fist pumps into his songs.
Guitarist Dez Cadena, on the other hand, was stoically focused on his work, and drummer Eric Arce played in the shadowy background. It was Only who assumed a role up front, bringing as much macho bravado and infectious charisma to the show as possible. As the show proceeded, he steadily lost more of his clothing, until eventually playing the final songs sweaty and shirtless.
All of Only’s showmanship managed to energize the audience, creating an intense madness in the front half of the floor and a sweaty, beer soaked mess of moshing, shoving fans. Even with some of the slower songs such as “Saturday Night,” the audience refused to calm down, settling instead with what can only be described as aggressive swaying. There was even a nice little surprise when Cadena took over the show to go back to his Black Flag roots, playing the track “Rise Above,” which was a well-timed change of pace.
Yet in spite of how much fun the audience and the band were having with the newer songs, such as “The Devil’s Rain” and “Dark Shadows,” it was also impossible to ignore the change in the audience that occurred whenever it played one of the classics. An hour into the show, some people were showing signs of fatigue, especially after a period of the band solely playing some of its more obscure later songs. However, this was immediately followed by “Die, Die My Darling,” one of its most famous originals, which, to the accompaniment of strobe lights, made the crowd go absolutely berserk.
There’s really no denying that those songs were the highlight of the night, as they unleashed the floodgates of cult devotion. The memory of me and a complete stranger, our sweaty arms around each other’s necks, singing along with “Where Eagles Dare” and screaming “I ain’t no god damn son of a bitch!” into each others faces, ultimately encapsulates this shared mania.
At the end of the night, while the rest of the band retired backstage, Only jumped off the stage and stood in front of the crowd, his arms outstretched like the dark messiah of horror-rock. The audience surged forward to the barrier and he spent the next ten minutes giving out high fives, autographs, and posing for photos, flexing his arms, and sneering. In any other context it would have deserved an eye-roll, but that night it felt completely befitting.
Seeing The Misfits play on stage felt surreal. This is ultimately what caused intensity that prevailed throughout the show, even when some of the newer material dragged on. The show might have been intimidating for those not familiar with the music, but for the couple of hundred die-hard Misfits fans there that night, it was exactly what they came for.