I went to Riot Fest this year, and it was a great time. It was conveniently timed the weekend before classes started, and it was great to move back into my apartment and catch some shows before I had to start going to school again and all that lame shit.
From 2005 to 2011, Riot Fest was a multi-venue punk festival, where bands would play at the standard rock venues around the city. They still do a little bit of that; this year the Violent Femmes played a show at Concord Hall in mid-July through Riot Fest. But that’s not really what Riot Fest is anymore. It’s a much bigger, three day outdoor event that plays acts from a wide range of genres. Hip hop, metal and indie rock are all heavily represented.
So sure, it could be said, and it has been said, that Riot Fest has lost its identity. Whatever. If you’re a bitter, aged Chicago punker, you and your extensive knowledge of ‘83 Naked Raygun setlists might be better off staying at home. But as for the rest of us, Riot Fest is a place where you’re probably gonna have a good time. This year’s Friday lineup with Ween (Ween!) and the Flaming Lips back to back was fantastic.
But even on Friday, I saw dozens of people walking around in Misfits shirts. The Misfits played on Sunday. Just walking around the grounds, it was very clear that this festival was about. This was the festival with the Misfits reunion.
Yeah, Misfits played at Riot Fest. The real Misfits. Not Jerry Only and some random guys, not a bunch of ex-Black Flag members carrying the torch. It seems a moderate amount of communication, a momentary casting aside of legal beef, and lots and lots of money were able to get Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the same stage together for two shows this fall, one at Riot Fest Denver, and the one in Chicago.
To those mostly in the dark about the Misfits and their music — yes, the Misfits were the band on the shirts of all the Hot Topic kids in middle school. They also used to be really really good. They emerged in the New York punk in the late 70’s, their music a original mixture of b-movie horror and sci-fi themes and melodic hardcore punk. By 1983 singer and songwriter Glenn Danzig, and bassist Jerry Only absolutely hated each other, and they broke up. During the band’s existence they were known within the punk community, but held little notoriety beyond that. Interest in the band accumulated over the following decade with widespread release of their recorded material, and in the mid-90s Jerry Only re-formed the Misfits with Doyle and without Danzig, who was uninterested. This incarnation of Misfits, with Jerry Only mostly on vocals, and a different, heavy metal sound, have been performing with some lineup or another up to present day. They are not very good. Yet, the Misfits’ popularity, and interest in their 80’s work has only increased with time.
As anyone who’s ever frequented a Hot Topic knows, when Glenn Danzig left the band, he didn’t just leave behind albums of fantastic material. He left behind a handful of incredibly well designed, very marketable logos. The merchandizing of the Misfits is the main source of their legal battles. When Only re-formed the Misfits, he acquired a large share of the merchandising rights for these logos. Only and Danzig have been in and out of court since the mid-90s, in large part due to Danzig attempting to get larger cuts of this merchandising revenue.
So that’s all really boring and lame, right? But that’s the environment that these two shows came out of. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jerry Only said that the idea of a reunion was conceived of and agreed to during a court date. The motives of these guys couldn’t have been more obvious — they hate each other, and they are only doing this because they are going to make a ton of money. And you know what? The show was really really good.
Things started off a little rocky when Danzig’s wireless mic malfunctioned and he kept bitching about it, but someone gave him a new mic and further friction was avoided for the rest of the set. Their setlist totaled 26 songs, all from their Danzig-era years, and mostly off their three classic albums Static Age, Walk Among Us and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood. The crowd was huge and very into the set. The Misfits’ logos flashed on the giant screen behind them while two huge, evil pumpkins with glowing green eyes guarded either side of the stage. “You guys like our fuckin’ pumpkins?” Danzig yelled at the crowd at one point, “Pretty fuckin’ sweet huh?”
One thing I found interesting was that, though they weren’t playing any of their newer, heavy metal material, the metal guitar tone lingered. It wasn’t overtly metal, but it wasn’t plug ‘n play punk guitar tone by any means. Regardless, the set was packed with their best material. You give the people “Death Comes Ripping”, “20 Eyes” and “I Turned Into a Martian” back-to-back-to-back to start the show and the people get going. The set was great. And most importantly, these reunion shows have let tens of thousands of Misfits fans experience the band they love live for the first time in decades, or for the first time ever.
Much has been made about the recent trend of bands reuniting and cashing in on the festival circuit. There is no doubt that that is exactly what this concert was. And it was amazing anyway. We would all love for musicians to care about their music, to engage with their fans and enjoy playing with their bandmates. But sometimes musicians are greedy, narcissistic pricks, and in that case giving them a bunch of money and shoving them out on stage works pretty well too.