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The Misfits at Riot Fest Chicago 2016: Bats In The Press Tent

Riot Fest Full Moon

Misfits sticker at The Double DoorMoments before Danzig, Doyle, Jerry and Lombardo (as well as Acey Slade, ex Murderdolls axe man on 2nd guitar) took the Riot Stage at Riot Fest Chicago as The (original) Misfits, I looked up to witness a single bat flipping and fluttering around the press area of Douglas Park. In hindsight, I cannot recall seeing any bats anywhere at the park on Saturday, the day before. I cannot recall seeing any bats on Friday. And even though it’s been a year, I cannot recall seeing any bats during Riot Fest 2015. Was this bat Glenn Danzig conducting reconnaissance in his ultimate form, taking the temperature of a group of people he has shunned and resented more than any other? Or was it simply one of the many minions of the Satanic Elvis? I thought I heard the bat giggling at us but I could be wrong. I can’t be sure of anything after all the hype and hoopla leading up to what I expected to be the most momentous concert experience of my life. Those same damn expectations that made the moment fall flatter than the one thing that had to be perfect; Glenn Danzig’s vocals.

related content: Janky Smooth at Riot Fest Chicago 2015: A Drunken History

This press area is not where I saw myself spending my time during the first (original) Misfits set in over 30 years. I had both a plan A) and a plan B) to make sure photographer Taylor Wong and I got the money shots no publication was approved to get in the photo pit, as well as mix it up with my fellow Fiend Club members during this momentous occasion and this fucking bat was taunting me and my failure to position myself properly. After feeling the extreme FOMO of watching every bit of (original) Misfits video and every word written to review The (original) Misfits that came out of their set at Riot Fest Denver, photos or no photos; I fully expected to be deep in the audience, soaked in my own tears and the blood of strangers. That was always the original (misfits) plan; Plan 9. Because by every account, The Misfits completely crushed their Denver set; and I had no doubt that’s what I would get to witness tonight.

Plan A) Appeal to the group’s tour manager who is the brother of an old friend- An old friend who also happened to be Danzig’s head of security on his solo tours. I don’t know the brother TOO well but after sending him a few texts, he responded with a text that I’m sure he sent to more than just a few other desperate beggars. Plan A was dead.

Plan B) Once we got the approval to cover this year’s Riot Fest, I had no doubt in my mind that I’d be able to bowl through the crowd to get close enough to shoot the band. I’ve never failed in all the decades I’ve attended shows whether it was for business or pleasure. I’m a fairly big buy and I’m more than moderately aggressive getting from point A to point B at a crowded concert.

Over the course of the 20 minutes prior to The (original) Misfits set, Taylor and I probed every section of the steadily building wall of people from one side of the stage to the other. Throughout the weekend, there was a perpetual “human free lane” on the right side of the Riot Stage that led from the exit of the photo pit, all the way to the end of Douglas Park. 20 minutes before THE set, that people free zone was (almost) completely filled in for the first time all weekend but that’s where we began.  

The typically porous piles of people became as rigid as a clenched jaw. Dirty looks and stubborn body language communicated that this was the end of the road for us here on the right side and that blows would be thrown if we attempted to push through any further. We decided to double back and try another entry point but with each reset and each minute that passed,the further back the dam of people started to stop our flow towards the stage.  Our last ditch effort was to try the far most left entry points of the connected Roots Stage where Rob Zombie just finished playing Astro Creep 2000 in it’s entirety.  A set that was capped off with the White Zombie, La Sexorcisto.. album classic, Thunderkiss ’65.  The memories of that might’ve slowed me down.  We got stuck behind a motorized scaffolding that completely obstructed our view.

Rob Zombie at Riot Fest by Taylor Wong

Taylor and I said, “Fuck it. Let’s just enjoy this shit”. No hustle. No ambition. No ulterior motives.  Just my favorite band and a moment that no one would thought they would ever see so, congratulations Riot Fest. This was your Guns N Roses. Major Coup-dos to you.

We decided to go back to the freedom, stocked bar and sparse population of the press area. But just minutes from The Misfits, even the easy walk we made at least 100 times over the course of the weekend of getting across the field to the press tent proved all but impossible- but we made it. The turnout and complete dedication of every fan in Douglas Park to witness this occasion was impressive and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The sudden acceptance and lack of pressure to extract anything from this moment but the moment itself was instantly intoxicating. I was about to see The Motherfucking The Misfits (original recipe). It had only been just a few years since I had seen Doyle playing with Danzig in Irvine for the Danzig Legacy Tour, playing both a set of Misfits AND Samhain (click on band for vid) songs and if this moment were ANYTHING like THAT moment then I would be a regressed mess, yelling at the stage as if the band could actually hear me.

Then that fucking bat whizzed past us again. Was the bat a bad omen or a good omen? Do I even believe in omens? I decided that I would decide later. I could hardly think anymore.

Then, in an instant, The Misfits were playing music together- “Death Comes Ripping”. I was welling up with rage and other, more base emotions I could hardly identify in the moment and didn’t even try until now. This was just the beginning. This was amazing and I had more than an hour left to absorb my favorite band playing in front of me for the very first time. Then the unthinkable happened. “20 Eyes”- Completely butchered from start to finish. It wasn’t just Danzig not finding the right register to sing the song in and hardly hitting a note the entire song. Although, if he had, the band sounding like a trainwreck would’ve hardly mattered. In fact, it probably would’ve been more true to the original recordings but without a crooning Glenn Danzig hitting all of the notes, it was just… bad. Really bad.

I can’t quite remember if it was after “20 Eyes” or the next song, “I Turned Into A Martian” when Danzig started ripping into the sound guys, audibly; a now common trademark for a Glenn Danzig fronted set but something that I had yet to see with my own eyes. But the 100 times I’ve seen Danzig live, his voice was perfect but not tonight. It’s almost like he couldn’t hear himself in the monitors at all?

“You’d think these guys would know what they are doing by now”, said Glenn when referring to the decades of experience of the dudes that were engineering the sound. I started bellowing a nervous laughter, anticipating a classic and complete Glenn Danzig meltdown.

Thankfully, the band tightened the screws (a little) for the next few songs- just enough so that I could get into it. “Where Eagles Dare” and “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight” relieved my disappointment and anxiety for a few moments. The bat was nowhere to be found now but once again, “Vampira” and “All Hell Breaks Loose” sounded like the band wasn’t even playing the same song, at times. Danzig bitched a bit more between those songs about the sound between his fast, winded and shallow breathing. “All Hell Breaks Loose” is possibly the most finely tuned, performed and engineered track of the entire Misfits studio catalog and falling short live of any Misfits studio cut is quite an accomplishment. But The (original) Misfits over achieved dubiously in that regard.

Finally, the next five songs delivered the moment and the feelings I was waiting for and expected starting with “Hybrid Moments”. “Teenagers From Mars” and that’s when it really happened for me.

When the “Teenagers From Mars” riff rang out in it’s rhythmic perfection of a band that finally found the pocket, I was instantly transported to ditching high school and smoking pot in the room of a long since dead homie. The comfortable key of that song not only allowed Danzig to finally “hear himself” but the entire band was finally on point from the music to the hook, “Teenagers from Mars… but we don’t care!” and suddenly, I had something stuck in my eye during that song and through the entirety of “London Dungeon”.

Then came the blistering and inseparable combination of Earth A.D. and Green Hell, which made ME want to call my Mommy and ask her if I also could go out and commit murder with her blessing. After those two songs, the band was hit or miss, executing well on one song and train-wrecking the next for the rest of their Riot Fest Chicago set. “Horror Business” sounded amazing and “We Are 138” sounded awful… and on and on.

Glenn’s banter was choppy and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. When he wasn’t bitching about the sound, he was actually pretty funny, particularly when he differentiated one song from another by saying something like “Now this is a REALLY old song…”, which made me laugh at the whole thing momentarily and not take the entire thing as seriously as I had been.

“This is my song for my hatred of the Kennedy’s… I hate those crooked mafia motherfuckers”, which helped us understand that there are more than just a few subjects that weren’t a mystery to Glenn Danzig when he wrote about them and turned them into classic Misfits material from “Who Killed Marilyn” to his observations on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and her post OnassisAssasination hustle.

Maybe my expectations were a bit too high after seeing the footage and reading the reviews on the Denver performance but with the perfection of the performance I witnessed during the Danzig Legacy tour, I don’t think they were unfair or unwarranted for material that is as simply arranged as classic Misfits material. I never once went to see Jerry Only’s Misfits cover band in the decades they’ve been playing shows. Not once. Not even by accident or catching them along with another band I wanted to see, even though there is an entire generation of people who knows that band as THE Misfits. Glenn Danzig’s well documented douchebaggery has never diminished my love for his art or anything he has touched as it has with any other bands or performers I’ve dismissed when discovering what despicable people they really are. The Misfits have always carried a mystique that could never be broken or diminished in any way for me and even as I’m processing the magnitude of my disappointment with Sunday’s mediocre performance, Legacy of Brutality is playing over my speakers at this very moment.

I have yet to see someone write about having the type of reaction and perception of the performance to the magnitude in which I’m describing in this review. Both the synopsis in the larger publications and the posts of non industry folks who attended Riot Fest on Sunday described the set as incredible or the description of a casual fan. It makes me wonder if I’m inventing my experience or my expectations were to high but after seeing the footage of Denver with my own eyes and hearing Glenn sing those songs a few years ago; I don’t think so.

I watched as everyone started dispersing during the extra encore the Misfits didn’t give Denver and people filed out in huge chunks while The (original) Misfits played “Attitude”.

We decided to attend the only sideshow we attended during our time in Chicago; The Bronx and Radkey at the legendary Double Door. I finally stopped thinking and over thinking and just got in and mixed it up during two pure and worthy performances to follow the deep and completely unexpected disappointment that I am STILL dealing with today. It’s all a bit ridiculous really that it still makes me upset but I never even considered for one moment that I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted from The Misfits reunion show at Riot Fest Chicago 2016. And now that it’s over?

I don’t believe in omens but I still think that bat flopping around the press area at that exact moment was an odd and poetic symbol during an experience that was incredibly symbolic to my life.

I now better appreciate the moments that took place before my expectations were destroyed. The build up to my Hybrid Moments at Riot Fest 2016 were filled with the Death Grips, Rob Zombie, Joey Bada$$ and OG Riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna’s band, The Julie Ruin- and those were some pretty damn good moments.

Riot Fest 2016

Stay tuned for a full recap, photo gallery and interviews from Riot Fest 2016, coming soon!

 

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