Coronado Theatre, Rockford, Illinois 12/8/07

by Dr. Abner Mality

For those who are not familiar with it, the Coronado Theatre is truly the crown jewel of Rockford and one of the few things in this town we can justifiably be proud of. It is a fully restored "movie palace" that can stand head and shoulders with any similar structure in the world. This is the way theatres were before the soulless multiplexes took over. The Coronado is a grand fairytale palace full of ornate designs, red carpets, giant mirrors and fabulous baroque architecture. The ceiling actually has twinkling "stars" that give the impression you are out in the open. It looks like the kind of place the Phantom of the Opera would love to lurk around. When I was a kid, Mom took us to see just about every Disney movie you could think of at the Coronado and I often imagined I saw masked figures peeking around the empty boxes and crannies on the upper balcony. The Coronado was a magical place to see and do anything.

So it was actually a rather fitting place for The Misfits, the ghoulish punk rockers with 30 bloody years of history behind them, to play. I'll bet Jerry Only dreamed he would someday belt out "Skulls" in a place that looked like it belonged in a Universal horror movie. Tonight he got his wish. But on the other hand, it seemed crazy to have a high-energy punk band bashing around in a carefully restored historical monument that more often plays host to the likes of Arlo Guthrie and the latest version of "Annie". And indeed, there were some definite problems caused by having a rowdy crowd of punk fans jostling and moshing in the beautiful old theater. More on that in a bit...

Kicking off the show were Egan's Rats. These guys were fixtures of the local punk scene for quite a while before breaking up a couple of years ago. I'm not sure if this was a one-time gig or if they are back to stay, but based on their performance here and the terrific response they got from the crowd, I'd say they should make this a full-time reformation. These guys were terrific and delivered a super high-energy set of punk that was both raw and tuneful. I'm sure they never dreamed they'd be playing on the Coronado stage, which offers about 10 times the room that Mary's Place or CJ's Lounge does. They made the most of it. What I liked about these guys is that they really mixed things up...some of the tunes were high speed thrashers, others had a more catchy rock n' roll feel (without being sugary pop-punk) and one even had a kind of reggae beat to it. It all flowed real well and frontman Keelan was really charismatic and personable. The crowd loved these guys and I certainly hope they stick together and get signed to a label that is able to push them.

It has been 30 long years since The Misfits rose from the crypts of New York to terrorize the world with their brand of horror punk. The 2007 version is now down to a 3-piece led by the relentless Jerry Only. Many die-hards say that the Danzig-led version were the only true Misfits, but I do not agree. I do admit that the hulking figure of Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein is missed on stage. I did not have terribly high hopes for this show going in, but wonder of wonders, The Misfits delivered a pretty blistering set that had Coronado security working double-time to control the stage divers and moshers and which probably had the numerous ghosts said to haunt the structure fleeing back to the catacombs.

The calendar said tonight was December 8 but the stage screamed "Halloween" with skeletons chained to the amps, jack o'lanterns grinning on the drum kit and the bony visage of The Crimson Ghost looming above all. The Misfits are really a band for the kid in all of us that wants to live in a perpetual Halloween. They are no more threatening or scary than a trick-or-treater in a sheet and can't possibly be compared to the more extreme horrors of black metal or death metal. But this is the band's strength and claim to fame. They have carved out this territory for themselves and rule it with an iron claw.

Jerry Only does the work of six men as the lead singer/bassist of the band. He really has to, because The Misfits do lack the presence of a lead vocalist like Danzig or Michale Graves. Jerry lacks some of the smoothness of those guys on vocals but brings more of a snarly punk atmosphere. The guy is all action and stalks the stage like a panther, connecting with the crowd and hitting all the right poses. The band now has ex-Black Flag Dez Cadena on guitars and sometime lead vocals. Musically, Dez cannot be faulted, but he just does not have the same presence as a Doyle and that's something that can't be denied. Drummer Robo was a real powerhouse,though, and held a thunderous beat throughout the whole set. He lent his talents to the classic "Earth A.D." disc and now seems back in action to stay. I found it curious, though, that he didn't have the traditional ghoul make-up either on "Earth A.D." or tonight.

Almost all of the early set was fast, ripping stuff from the band's earlier classics. Stuff like "Teenagers From Mars", "Skulls", "I Turned Into A Martian" thrashed out in a frenzied blur, leaving hardly any room to breathe. It's simple and simplistic stuff but it strikes a hell of a chord. The mass of fans up front became a churning whirlpool and stage divers started to make an appearance, causing chaos amidst the yellow shirted security. I can see it both ways on this issue. The Coronado is a historic and valuable venue that is not really suitable for kids jumping all over the place and jumping off the stage into the midst of expensive chairs that are likely over a half-century old. So I can see it as justified that security would try to stop that sort of activity. Nonetheless, it was pretty comical watching them frantically trying to nab kids in the act with fresh incidents popping up all over the place. One security dude who had to be as wide as he was tall was huffing and puffing in the pit trying to catch one daredevil who did a pretty impressive cartwheel/stage dive. "Let the fat man go!" came a yell as he was surrounded by a swarm of kids. That led Jerry to briefly stop the show and tell the kids to let the guy go and knock it off. It seemed to work for a while, but this crowd was rowdy and ready to rock. One teenybopper even jumped up on stage to give Jerry a hug and kiss, which he seemed rather nonplussed about. I suspect the powers that be will think twice before booking a hard rock act into the Coronado again.

The second part of the show focused on some more recent Misfits classics from the Michale Graves era like "Psycho", the super-catchy "From Hell They Came" and anthemic "Dig Up Her Bones" which had most of the crowd singing along. It's good to see the kids were not prejudiced against these later tunes as some hardcore Misfits fans have been.

Tonight's gig was a benefit for the N-Factor organization, which is devoted to curbing Rockford's rampant truancy problem. Jerry gave a nice speech talking about how he worked hard to play this show for Rockford and how you can achieve anything if you work hard enough and ignore the nay-sayers. He also gave a shout-out to the ever-present Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick who gets himself mentioned at every rock show in town as well as his own son, who was in the audience.

Misfits put the exclamation point on the night by playing the expected classics like "Last Carress/Green Hell" and "Die, Die, My Darling" which brought the stage divers out again as security watched helplessly. "Die, Die, My Darling" is just one of the catchiest and most addictive punk tunes ever and Jerry barely needed to sing it. After the final cut, Only came out and spent a good 10 minutes shaking hands and greeting the fans, joined by a rather exhausted but smiling Robo. I love to see that kind of bonding between bands and fans.

This turned out way, way better than I thought. The Misfits threw down as much as they can these days and a hot crowd responded in good fashion. I would have paid $10.00 just to sit in the Coronado like I did in my childhood. Tonight, the theater was haunted by the specter of rock and roll and I hope the old girl weathered the storm alright.