Rock ‘n’ roll reunions have been sucking the pockets of nostalgia dry for decades now. From Journey to Rush, to Simon and Garfunkel, to the Pixies, Portland has been inundated with money-grubbing resurrections lately and no one seems to mind. In fact, people seem to be downright enthusiastic to fork over their hard-earned money to enjoy withered, half-hearted renditions of their favorite band’s greatest hits.
Punk rock reunions are a different animal altogether. Outside of big-name festival bands (Sex Pistols, Descendents), punk rock bands are constantly breaking up and reuniting, often with only a fraction of the original lineup in attendance. And punk rock as a genre seems to lend itself to the context of reunions. Angst is a timeless emotion and, as one audience matures, there is a never-ending supply of maladjusted suburban youths to take their place in the pit.
But as the musicians near middle age, and years of hard living begin to take their toll, does the music suffer? Can a band continue to seem fresh when the only remaining original member is closer to a retirement home than a squat? Does the frantic energy transcend time? Is punk rock still a viable lifestyle?
Looking for answers, the Vanguard sent two intrepid reporters into the depths of teen anger at the Bossanova this weekend to see if the once again reunited Misfits still had that special smelly something.
I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy this show. I’m sick of seeing crusty old bands that are playing only because they have no other career options. What really made it worse was the venue. The doors were supposed to open at 8, but we ended up waiting an hour and a half to get in. Every concertgoer had to undergo a frisking, and silly things like backpacks and pens weren’t allowed in. (I know it’s dorky but I like to take notes). I didn’t have anywhere to put my bag and I was afraid that I’d have to take a bus ride to a friend’s house and stash it there.
Luckily, one of my good friends has a show on KBOO and the station is right around the corner. I saw one of the DJs coming out to put something in her car. I walked up to her and explained my predicament, telling her I was a friend of “so and so” and even offering to contribute $5 to the fine KBOO organization. Eventually, she agreed to look after it in the DJ booth, if only to get me out of her hair.
After all the ridiculousness with the bag and having all my pockets searched during the frisking, I was in no mood to be bouncing around with a bunch of sweaty teenagers. I headed straight for the bar, where I could sit down and drink a Coca-Cola.
I ended up sharing a table with an old surf punk by the name of Billy Torres, who claimed that he was one of the original drummers with Black Flag and that he had jammed with Overkill and the Dickies. He was bitter, missing teeth and had the air of someone who had been through the ringer more than a few times. He made me quote him as saying “HENRY ROLLINS CAN ABSOLUTELY EAT MY ASS!” I would’ve liked to talk to him more, but he started getting belligerent and I couldn’t hear him talk over the music so I concentrated on the bands instead.I missed most of 800 Octane’s set due to the line. I can’t say I was impressed by what I eventually did hear. I mean, it’s not like I’m turning into an old fart; I still have my Voivod CD in rotation. But loud-and-fast isn’t the only thing that gives the music its personality and a lot of these new hardcore bands seem to have missed that. Pig and Jerry are all that’s left of the original Poison Idea lineup. They are fatter than ever and that is just the way it should be. They dove right into “Hangover Heart Attack” and immediately all the kids started going apeshit. The music was intense as it always is, but this may be due to the young blood in the band. Pig was playing rhythm instead of lead and he ended up almost passing out, two songs before the band’s set ended. They played “The Temple,” which is one of my favorite P.I. tunes and has awesome lyrics, but Jerry, in a typical punk way, wouldn’t or couldn’t enunciate them.
The current Misfits lineup is an all-star threesome featuring Dez Cadena, the last remaining Ramone, Marky, and only one original Misfit, Jerry Only. They played a good set with a lot of their originals, like “Hybrid Moments,” “20 Eyes” and “I Turned Into a Martian.” I had no idea how good a drummer Marky really is. He definitely hid his talents as a Ramone. And Dez looked healthier than he ever did with Black Flag. Jerry isn’t as great a singer as Danzig, but he definitely puts Michael Graves to shame. And as fascist as the Bossanova is, at least they let the kids do some stage diving.
When it comes to music, I’m pretty jaded. Most things I hear fail to live up to my standards, and I’m always looking for a way to turn musical sacred cows into ground beef. So it should come as no surprise that I expected the Misfits show on Saturday to suck heartily.
“Well,” I thought to myself as I endured the hour and a half wait outside of the Bossanova, “this ought to suck – Misfits minus Danzig can be nothing but bad. They’re probably trying to milk the band name for everything it’s worth before they finally self-destruct, or worse, they’re turning into the Rolling Stones of punk rock.” I took my place in front of the stage, ready to deconstruct what I was sure would be a pitiful attempt to recapture lost glory while pandering to a new generation of fans.
Opening acts 800 Octane and Poison Idea, while good, were nothing that special in terms of energy. Poison Idea demonstrated the proficiency and tightness of a band that has been around for a long time, but most of the members stood limply on stage and the Jerry Garcia-looking rhythm guitarist ended up leaving after a few songs. My jaded perspective was reinforced as I mentally bemoaned the sad sham that punk rock has become and mourned the passing of lost ideals like great showmanship and true connection between artists and their audience. You can imagine my surprise when the Misfits took the stage and immediately launched into a furious set, leaving me no time to catch my breath between renditions of both Misfits and Ramones classics.
Marky Ramone occupied the drum stool and pounded out a thunderous backbone to the loud, hard and fast lineup, inciting practically the whole audience into a frenzy of dancing, crowd-surfing and stage-diving. The Bossanova security guard looked on with a smile as people of all ages lost themselves in the melee of writhing bodies and studded vests. In fact, pretty much everyone on the main floor had a smile on their face as they slammed about and pumped their fists.
A 40-something woman, dressed sharply and conservatively, leapt onstage, planted a kiss on Misfits bassist Jerry Only’s cheek and threw herself off onto a sea of waiting hands. After a furious hour of rousing punk classics, Only broke his bass strings and stalked offstage, leaving everyone sweaty and satisfied.
Far from being the tame rehash act I expected, the Misfits were raucous, rocking and surprisingly good. Maybe now I won’t judge the people I see with that damn skull insignia festooned all over their bodies. I realize now it represents something beyond a mere band; it represents an idealistic view of punk rock that cynical music dorks like myself should heed. Instead of seeing sad groupies clinging to long-dead ideals, I could see the ideals themselves, independent of the trappings of fashion.
I have seen the face of punk rock. Its teeth may be rotten, but it was smiling.