This group’s brand recognition has never wavered as much as its lineup in the thirty years since, but it’s nice when the proprietors of so beloved a franchise acknowledge their roots.
Yes, The Misfits are still rocking—albeit as a trio. Cofounder and keeper of the flame Jerry Only still throttles his Cyclops-adorned bass while shaking his signature “devil lock” haircut to the beat. Guitarist Dez Cadena (of Black Flag fame) signed on in 2001, and drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce (Murphy’s Law) injected a few pints of young blood to the proceedings in 2010.
The pioneering punkers’ first live album, Evilive, began as an EP consisting of tracks recorded at The Ritz in New York City in late 1981 before being fleshed out into a full-length release in 1987. Evillive II, issued some eleven years later through the band’s fiendish fan club, assembled in-concert cuts from the 1997-98 tour with vocalist Michale Graves.
DEA.D. Alive! culls from two back-to-back shows at B.B. King’s at Times Square, NYC on October 31, 2011 and Starland Ballroom in New Jersey (near the band’s hometown of Lodi). Clocking in at almost an hour, the set draws primarily from the ‘Fits last album, The Devil’s Rain, with a handful of Graves-era tunes thrown in at the end for good measure.
If punkers are supposed to slow down after 50, Only and Cadena didn’t get the memo. Only’s always been the group’s anchorman; he became ipso facto leader after reforming the legendary outfit in 1995. He assumed lead vocal duties following Graves’ departure in 2000, crooning several energized covers on the well-regarded Project 1950 and acquitting himself nicely behind the microphone for Devil’s Rain.
But what’s remarkable about DEA.D. Alive! is Only’s stamina. Not only does the burly bassist belt this stuff with confidence, he does so without skipping verses or letting the audience fill in the gaps (as his predecessors often did). Queue up Evilive and you’ll be hard-pressed to decipher much in the way of intelligible lyrics out of Glenn, who prowled the stage like a panther and understandably got winded dodging bandmates and audience members. There’s no huffing and puffing or hastily-barked half-lyrics with Only, who stays pinned to the mic while thrumming his Devastator, missing nary a word of B-movie bonhomie.
Only’s growling graphite bass occupies the left side of the mix while Cadena’s Schecter Damien guitar rides right. Arce’s drums share the center of the stereo field with Jerry’s leads vocals, a bed of relentless rhythmic thunder underpinning the controlled chaos. In a live context, The Misfits’ M.O. still involves barreling full steam ahead with 1-2-3-go gusto, but they’re a much tighter musical unit and leave less to chance. Listeners can actually hear the separation of instruments in the mix (produced by Ed Stasium and John Cafiero), unlike the previous two live outings, wherein guitars and bass bled together in a distorted rhythmic stew.
The show is front-loaded with newer tracks like “Devil’s Rain,” “Vivid Red,” and “Land of the Dead,” all of which bear more than a few traces of the band’s well-documented affinity for schlock cinema. Only doesn’t come up for air until six songs in, greeting the Halloween crowd after “Dark Shadows.”
“The Shining” and “Dig Up Her Bones” hail from The Misfits’ 1995 comeback American Psycho, while “Helena” and “Scream” appear courtesy 1999’s Famous Monsters. The titanic trio wraps up with a spin on Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Science Fiction Double Feature,” then encore with gruesome drive-in ballad “Crying on a Saturday Night.”
Those who haven’t checked out the band’s post-Danzig catalog are selling themselves short. Sure, Only’s a different kind of vocalist (think John Traynor of Jay and The Americans instead of Elvis)—but The Misfits’ material remains as hard, fast, and serrated as ever.
DEA.D. Alive! boasts a snazzy cover sleeve by pop culture painter Jason Edmiston: a mummified Only glares from an Egyptian casket whose hieroglyphs feature his trademark Cyclops and the band’s iconic Fiend.