Released Feb. 5th on Misfits Records
Dead Alive! captures the current incarnation of the Misfits—bassist/lead singer Jerry Only, guitarist/backup singer Dez Cadena, and drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce—at a pair of hometown Halloween shows in 2011, one at New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom and the other at BB King’s in Times Square. Each Misfits lineup over the years has had its own live document: The original Glenn Danzig-helmed era had Evilive, the 1990s incarnation (with Only, his brother Doyle on guitar, drummer Dr. CHUD, and singer Michale Graves) had the Fiend Club-only release Evillive II, and now the present trio has Dead Alive!
The first half of the album is all songs from 2011’s The Devil’s Rain, the first release by the Only/Cadena/Arce lineup and the first batch of new, original Misfits tunes since 1999. Since its release, the band’s live set has generally started with a batch of Devil’s Rain songs before moving into some of the classic Danzig material and then a few of the Graves-era tunes. Dead Alive! omits any stuff from the Danzig years, with the latter half of the album devoted to songs from 1997’s American Psycho and 1999’s Famous Monsters, as well as a cover of the Rocky Horror tune “Science Fiction/Double Feature”. Whether this is because Only wants to exclusively showcase the latter eras of the band (of which he’s been the driving creative force), or he simply doesn’t want to pay Danzig any royalties for the old songs, the fact remains: This is the Jerry Only show. And that’s not a bad thing, as his vocal abilities have improved quite a bit since he took over the mic in 2001.
Beginning as it does with 7 Devil’s Rain songs in a row, performed in the same order they appear on the album, the first half of Dead Alive! feels sort of redundant. After all, The Devil’s Rain came out just 16 months before Dead Alive! (and just a few weeks before the shows it documents), and the live renditions don’t differ much from, or add much to, the studio takes. There isn’t even any talking between songs during this section, the band powers straight through with barely a pause for breath. For me, some good stage banter is usually what makes a live album worth it, but Dead Alive! contains barely any, and what it does have comes near the end.
What makes Dead Alive! worth a listen is its second half, where the band tears through a half dozen numbers from the Michale Graves era. Over the years this material, which was much more heavy metal-oriented than the classic stuff, has been performed faster and faster and at increasingly deafening volume levels. I’ve seen them play several times over the last few years, and this increased speed and loudness generally makes any of the pre-2001 material all but unlistenable, with most of the songs so amped up that they become an indecipherable wall of noise. The takes on Dead Alive! benefit from a professional recording setup and mixing/mastering job courtesy of The Devil’s Rain producer Ed Stasium (known for his work with the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Living Colour), which cleans this effect up quite a bit. The drums and guitar are a bit muddled on the ’90s material, but Only’s vocals come through nice and clear. Highlights on the back half are “Scream!”, “Helena”, “Saturday Night”, and the “Science Fiction/Double Feature” cover.
In a way it’s unfair to keep comparing the Misfits’ most recent incarnations to its previous ones, as they’re really making an effort to distinguish themselves from the past eras. However, since the band traffics so much in the legacy and imagery of its origins, going so far as to play 25th and 30th anniversary tours (even though Jerry Only is the sole remaining member from the early days, and there was an 11-year gap between the original run and the 1990s relaunch), such comparisons are inevitable. Since relaunching the band in the ’90s, and particularly since assuming the role of frontman in 2001, Only has tamed the band’s subject matter down quite a bit. Undoubtedly following from Only’s own experience as a father, the Danzig compositions dealing in murder, demonic imagery, and violent sexuality have featured less in the set, in favor of the more kitschy numbers that are basically odes to famous b-movies (see “Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” and “Dark Shadows”).
I’ve long maintained that, removed from comparisons to the Danzig-era Misfits, the Only-led lineups are actually quite good; certainly their 1990s output demonstrated that they weren’t just rehashing the past and could write killer songs. Had they chosen to do so under any other name, it’d be easier to judge them on their own merits. Dead Alive! tries to make this case by being frontloaded with recent material and consisting entirely of post-Danzig tunes. The audience seems enthused, opening the album with chants of “Jerry! Jerry!” I will certainly give Only credit for being connecting with his audience: Every time I’ve seen the band, he remains out front long after the show has ended, signing autographs, shaking hands, and taking photos with fans. That’s not something that can be said for a lot of musicians, especially ones who’ve been at it for as long as he has.