LOS ANGELES HERALD-EXAMINER, April 15, 1982 ------------------------------------------- MUSIC REVIEW Misfits make a joke of hard-core punk New York group displays a playful attitude at the Whisky By David Chute Herald Examiner staff writer The Misfits, a flamboyant foursome from New York who growled their way through a tight and infectious set at the Whisky on Tuesday, make the morbid nihilism of hard-core punk seem playful and ingratiating. Mind you, the obligatory buzz-saw drone of noise and rage the band churns out doesn't sound ironic. But since both the costumes of the players and the lyrics of their best songs are borrowed from the grisliest schlock horror movies, the boyish dress-up games and gleeful grossouts suggest a refreshing larkish attitude toward the standard pose of hard core. What's more, the Misfits' material has a strong spine of musicianship that one doesn't pick up on right away. You have to play their fine first album, Misfits Walk Among Us (Ruby/Plan 9), a couple times or give them at least 15 minutes in concert before the melodic undertow of the music comes into focus. In other words, it's at exactly the point where most hard-core bands would begin to seem tiresome and repititious (because raw anger wears out its welcome quickly) that the Misfits begin to get interesting. They aren't trying to get by on rage alone, but display an authentic commitment to showmanship. When Misfits mastermind and lead singer Glenn Danzig declares that screechy tunes such as "Astro Zombies" or "Night of the Living Dead" are really heartfelt metaphors ("Everyday's a horror for me," Danzig said), we should probably take the claim with a grain of salt. But for me, it's precisely this grain of salt that gives the music a special savor. In a pinch, for instance, you might be able to argue that a Misfits song like "Violent World" (about an actual, infamous magazine that, at one brief low point in the late '70s, peddled graphic photos of train wrecks and executions) represents an authentic nightmare "vision" of modern life. But most of their numbers can only be interpreted as sick jokes. "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?," for example, recalls the gruesome family vignettes of Charles Addams while "Braineaters" has all the lip-smacking grossness of a ghoulish playground chant: Brains for dinner / Brains for lunch / Brains for breakfast / Brains for brunch / Why can't we have a change of pace? / Why can't we have some guts? The Misfits rave-up at the Whisky did not (unless my ears deceived me) include the lustful album cut, "Vampira." But the spirit of that slinky TV shock-theater host of the '50s -- the Elvira of her day and a star from "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (from which the Misfits' home label, Plan 9 Records, takes its name) -- lingers on in the band's tacky macabre trappings. The rotting letters of the Misfits' logo, for instance, are copied from Famous Mpnsters of Filmland magazine, the bible of every horror-loving 10-year-old. On the surface, the Misfits resemble both the Cramps and the earlier, funnier incarnations of the Plasmatics in exploiting the fondess of the punk audience for cheesy, gory horror pictures. But it's crucial that the Misfits look like pretend zombies: they aren't wasted, spindly real-life zombies like some punk performers. Under the black leather graveyard togs and the white makeup, the Misfits have bodybuilder physiques. And the music, which has a core of muscular craftmanship, matches their looks. In one form or another, the Misfits have been around since 1977, producing five EPs and a single, and have always had a loyal cult following. But the release of Misfits Walk Among Us seems to signal their real arrival. The word is out, apparently, because Tuesday night's crowd included Black Flag's lead singer, Henry Rollins, who granted the Misfits an L.A. Punk Seal of Approval by joining them on stage for final song, and funk-punk superstar Rick James ("Superfreak"). Hard-core punk, no matter how much longer the die-hard fans hang on, has just about exhausted its potential as a pop-music subgenre. Sure, an occasional hard-core band like the Bad Brains can briefly restore the music's angry scary conviction. But the range of hard-core music is very narrow and, by now, the same seething chords and phrases have been repeated so often that they seem faintly ludicrous. Like Black Flag, however, the Misfits have found a way out of the hard-core dead end. They have turned the silliness of the hard-core pose into a joke that they share with the audience. The opening act substitute, Saccharine Trust -- whose underwhelming SST EP is called Pagamicons -- plays hard-core dirges with lyrics that sound like a pretentious high school student's notion of avant-garde poetry: Drunk on the rug / stuck in the blood / he vomites nostalgia.