Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The night of Sunday, December 2nd was raw and damp. Talking on the phone with my friend Jay, I informed him that the Weather Channel's website forecast an ice storm and dangerous driving conditions, but I was merely practicing a sort of reverse hypnotic suggestion on myself. The more reasons that I gave Jay that we shouldn't go to The Chance to see Jerry Only's Misfits, the more I was talking myself into hopping into my car and driving pell-mell to Poughkeepsie. And the bad weather was the most powerful hoodoo that I could cast over my procrastinating brain, since I love the "Last Man on Earth" feeling of driving slowly along empty, snow-covered roads. I even have a special coonskin cap that I keep in my desk drawer at work for those rare opportunities when a courier mission must be attempted during a raging blizzard. (If you want to get a startled look from another motorist, put on a coonskin cap and drive with your head stuck out the side window, tail flapping proudly behind you in the stiff wind of a snow squall.) Having successfully pushed myself off the fence, I told Jay that I would pick him up shortly.

Growing up in New Jersey, I heard murmurs during middle school in 1979 about this band of kids from Lodi and their stripped down rock and roll. Later, a friend's older brother would tell me about a visit to (Jerry's?) machine shop where the Misfits were prototyping metal guitars and other accoutrements, but by 1983 the band's original run was over and only the dust was left to settle. It wasn't until much later that I would devour their songs while daydreaming about model kits, monster movies, and their namesake, Marilyn Monroe's unsettling last movie. It was an added bonus that the current incarnation of the band included Dez Cadena and Robo from Black Flag...sort of a "collect 'em all" opportunity for punk rock legends.

We glided into the parking lot of the Chance at about 10 o'clock. Through the surreal filter of the ice-coated windshield, we watched kids capering about on the frictionless pavement in their Crimson Ghost t-shirts. The crowd inside the club was quite a mix: young kids, older bikers, forty-ish couples, at least one example of the incredibly elusive African-American punk rocker, and the donut-devouring dark prince of Poughkeepsie, Joe Netherworld. The bikers provided some fun overheard conversations with security at the entrance. "Come on, you must have a knife." Biker grimaces, shrugs and starts digging in a side pocket for his shiv. "You can pick it up again on your way out."

The sound system was pumping out elevator music, Hammond organ versions of Misfits classics while the stage remained shrouded in a vast, black curtain. Finally, the lights dimmed and roadies unveiled the ghoulish trappings: skeletons chained to the amps like the Forgotten Prisoners of Castel-Mare, a riser for the drum set with a lighted Misfits logo that pulsed like a beating heart, cymbal stands that each pierced a skull and were finished in metal spikes, a bass drum with a Crimson Ghost image bookended by stone gargoyles that belched fog from their gryphon beaks, standing coffins, and a banner that announced the "30th Anniverscary Tour!" Were we missing anything? I don't think it could have been better unless The House of Mystery's Cain had intro'ed the band with his trademark werewolf hairdo and leisure suit.

The groovy ghoulies took the stage. Jerry was fully dressed out in black leather and devil lock, Dez was in fighting trim with long hair and creepy corpse paint on his face, and Robo sported a sabertooth tiger necklace like a cartoon caveman. The band tore into the set list, Jerry shouting out song titles hoarsely between numbers. They probably ripped through 40 or more songs, some just nuggets of less than a minute or so, and I was overjoyed that they played almost entirely a hit parade of early faves including Teenagers from Mars, Vampira, We Are 138, Horror Business, 20 Eyes, London Dungeon, Die, Die My Darling.... A local fan was pulled onto the stage to play guitar on Skulls and later Jerry pulled some teen girl up to sing another number. There was a sort of "old home week" atmosphere to the concert, with Uncle Jerry telling us assembled fans that we were "few in number but our hearts were invincible." A little Auld Lang Syne seemed OK, it being the 30th Anniversary of punk rock and all (or the 31st, if you start counting with the Damned and New Rose).

In the midst of the happy chaos of it all, an oddly familiar bass intro thundered through my brain, followed by the lyric "Twenty-five dollars and a six-pack to my name - SIX-PACK!" and without thinking I was on my feet bellowing out the words. Even with Dez and Robo in the band, I hadn't realized that we would get some Black Flag mixed into the show. "Six Pack" was a real counterpoint to the darker, horror punk of the Misfits, a neuron-igniting jolt of adrenaline juxtaposed against the rest of the set. The band also played a rousing "Rise Above" as a second encore, before begging off on a late night to go and fight the icy roads. Apparently even the undead fear a good spin-out and airbag deployment.

So there it is -- three guys between the ages of 46 and 55 singing decades-old odes to monster movies and delinquency on a snowy night in the Hudson Valley. Punk rock may have died the first time that some kid shouted out "Punk's not dead!", but what's not to love about zombies?