Thursday, November 22, 2001

Exploding out of New Jersey in the late 1970s, the Misfits rewrote the plots of their favorite B-movie horror flicks as narratives to heavy but overtly hummable rockers. Frontman Glenn Danzig, bassist Jerry Only, guitarist Doyle Only (Jerry’s brother) and multiple drummers donned skeleton costumes and combed their bangs into long spikes called “devil locks.” The boxed set that celebrated the band’s 20-year anniversary was shaped like a six-sided coffin, a sly wink to fans who craved the menacing persona but knew these guys weren’t really bloodthirsty maniacs.
The Misfits’ blood-splattering antics and obsession with Halloween and other groovy ghoulishness inspired Slipknot, the multi-platinum-selling Iowa band that appears onstage and in interviews sporting masks of varying grotesquerie. Mudvayne also aimed to shock, Misfits-style, by appearing at a recent MTV award show with fake gunshot-wound-to-the-head makeup. These bands peddle angst to an audience in search of ways to shock parents who’ve seen it all. The Misfits played loud and fast, too. But beneath the hornet’s nest of buzzing guitars, the songs revealed a mischievous, playful spirit and a reverence for rock-n-roll’s roots in the 1950s.
The Misfits recorded two albums during its second incarnation, minus the Elvis-as-evildoer vocals of Mr. Danzig, and never recaptured its original mystique. In order to free itself from its contract with Roadrunner Records, the Misfits dredged up unreleased recordings and rare studio demos from 1996 to 2001 and compiled them as “Cuts from the Crypt.”
Down to just one long-time member, the Misfits return to the 9:30 Club on Wednesday to celebrate year number 25 with the “fiends,” the band’s nickname for its supporters. Though the compilation merely reminds listeners of a period with few high points, the tour could easily make amends. Jerry Only assembled some pals from punk’s most-recognized groups to add some needed intrigue to the lineup. Dez Cadena and Robo from 1980s hardcore kings Black Flag, and Marky Ramone from the Ramones, join Jerry Only on stage, and the set list is expected to include songs from all three bands.

The human intellect is programmed to re-interpret commonly held beliefs and exhibit a sharper sense of awareness during times of adversity. After the events of September 11, people began to assign more gravity to everyday activities. They scan their newspapers more carefully and find deeper meanings in prayers they’ve uttered by memory thousands of times.
Even song lyrics are treated differently. Listeners worship at the altar of their stereos to determine if once-frivolous lyrics contain new importance during our uncertain times.
The newfound attention to songwriters’ musings takes on a special meaning to Superchunk and Rilo Kiley, appearing Monday at the Black Cat. Recent releases that feature songs recorded before September 11 include references to plane crashes that carry added emotional heft following the terrorist attacks. The cover and inside graphics of Rilo Kiley’s album, “Take Offs and Landings,” focus on airplane schematics, and “Wires and Waves” includes the line “sometimes planes they smash up in the sky.” Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan sings, “Plane crash footage on TV/ I know, I know it could be me” on “Phone Sex.” But only the most casual listener will take the lyrics literally and misinterpret these songs that address relationship dilemmas.
On the subject of interpretations, the title of Superchunk’s most recent album, “Here’s to Shutting Up,” might be a response to fans who complain that the quartet has mellowed as it’s grown older. From their breakthrough with 1991’s “No Pocky for Kitty,” Mr. McCaughan, bassist Laura Balance, guitarist Jim Wilbur and drummer Jon Wurster achieved acclaim with blazing anthems and sweat-drenched live shows. The skill came naturally, as if the ability to compose and perform some of punk’s most stirring songs was as innate as breathing.
The songs on “Here’s to Shutting Up” evolve organically, and the band is in no rush to reach the chorus. A sentimental organ adds warmth to “Late-Century Dream,” and Superchunk exults in the country & western twang of “Phone Sex.”
Even in its tempered form, the band’s material still energizes, and the occasional knockout punch like “Rainy Streets” feels as sonically invigorating as any of Superchunk’s earlier work.
Maybe that album title is really an in-joke amongst the band. It’s the recognition that the cycle of writing, recording and touring is indeed a grind, but one that’s still cherished after more than 20 years.

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