The Perfect 'Fits


November 30, 2001



   I cut my teeth in the punk scene of New York and New Jersey in the early ’80s, so I grew up accepting good-time ghouls the Misfits as an iconic part of the landscape. But as with the World Trade Center, you’re never quite sure how important regional symbols are outside your own backyard until the world at large makes you aware.

    Though the Misfits’ best album, “Walk Among Us,” was released almost 20 years ago (the band’s finest formation split in 1983), rare is the major punk show today where at least two or three of those famous grinning-skull T-shirts aren’t in evidence.

    In part, this is because of one of the best all-encompassing images in rock history. Forget about Kiss; in combining B-grade horror movie theatrics and indelibly catchy, adrenaline-fueled punk, Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Co. were the music’s true costumed masters of the macabre.

    But to contend that the Misfits only connected with fans because of the shtick--like, say, Gwar--is to ignore the enduring strength of their sure-fire formula. The 1996 box set (which came in a black cardboard coffin) is ample evidence of the group’s recorded legacy. But an even better tribute is “Missing Fits” (My Pal God), the latest offering from one of the Chicago rock scene’s true hometown treasures, the Goblins.

    According to the brilliantly funny liner notes by one “Dr. Yuri Strier, chair of the musics and cultures department at the University of Chicago,” the Goblins dropped by the local headquarters of Touch & Go Records one day to pay homage to the stage-prop Misfits coffin owned by label founder Corey Rusk.

    Rusk unwisely left the band unattended with this invaluable relic. While lovingly fondling it, the Goblins discovered a secret compartment filled with carefully notated transcriptions of unreleased, unrecorded Misfits songs from back in the day.

    “Needless to say, the Goblins were baffled, amazed and confused. Hiding the booty in their gig bags, they snuck it out of Touch & Go to examine it further. And that’s where I come in,” Dr. Strier writes. “After extensive examination, carbon dating, DNA testing and expert consultation, we have concluded, with a sub-microscopic margin of error, that these items are, in fact, genuine.”

    Uh, yeah, right.

    Ever the enterprising capitalists, the Goblins promptly set about recording these tunes, and the results can be heard via delirious dark-side ditties such as “Who Killed Agnes Moorehead?” (“She found power on the darker side/And remained ‘Bewitched’ until she died”), “Necklace of Brains” (“In an alley off Jeweler’s Row/There’s a shop where no one goes”), and the classic “4 Food Groups” (“Flesh… Flesh… Flesh… and Brains! Flesh… Flesh… Flesh… and Brains!”).

    The masked ones’ influence has always been present in the Goblins’ oeuvre; with the own shrouded stage get-ups, they’re sort of a low-budget Misfits, who were pretty darn low-budget to begin with. Plus, of course, they’re punker than heck. “We really only play together about two hours a year, and that includes our time on stage,” says singer Jake Austen. “Our ideal set is like 20 minutes long.”

    Save for their ubiquitous leader, who publishes the must-read Roctober fanzine ( and produces the cable-access music show “Chic-A-Go-Go,” the identities of the other Goblins remain a not-so-carefully guarded secret. Far be it from me to risk some bringing a botched curse upon my head by unmasking them. But it’s about time the group got its due for being one of the most imaginative party bands this city has ever produced.

    The Goblins have done this sort of high-concept homage before: Last Easter, they produced a musical called “He Is My Rock” paying tribute to the “God rock” of the early ’70s (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” etc.). The group is planning a repeat this spring, and it may record an album of those tunes. But the musicians must have also sold their souls to the devil, because “Missing Fits” is garnering more notice than any other recording in their extensive indie discography.

    “It’s amazing how much attention this record is getting--much more than anything else we’ve ever done,” Austen says. “There are a lot of closet Misfits fans out there.” Does this rock scholar (a dead ringer for Dr. Strier) have any insight as to why?

    “I think it was because the Misfits were fun,” Austen says. “When we were doing this--and it’s amazing how easy it is to write one of these songs once you get the formula down--you could really see that there was always a lot of humor in this stuff, and it was just tons of fun to play it.”

    The Goblins celebrate the release of “Missing Fits” at 10 tonight at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western. Jeff Pezzati’s modish pop-punk band the Bomb and the Paperbacks open, and the cover is $8. Call (773) 276-3600.

* * *

    A celebration of a different sort is taking place at the U.I.C. Pavilion, which is hosting a relatively rare local performance tonight by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

    The mid-sized venue has a capacity of 10,000, which places it between the Aragon Ballroom or the Arie Crown Theatre and the Allstate Arena or the United Center. The sound quality has never been extraordinary, and the overall vibe has evoked an oversized school gymnasium (which is basically what it is). But the facility has just completed the first phase of a big overhaul.

    “We’ve fully renovated the amenities of the building,” says venue administrator Eric Hart. “There are new concourses, new and expanded concession stands, a new glass atrium/grand lobby, new merchandise areas, new bathrooms… We’ve made it more user friendly, and more of a modern building.”

    The changes were made for concerts as much as for sporting events. “Our ultimate goal is to attract more business and more events, along with keeping our resident client, the athletic department, happy,” Hart says. “The building had a lot of deficiencies, and we knew it and tried to address it.”

    Phase two of the project will include expanding out into a section of Congress Parkway from Racine to Morgan. Unfortunately, it will also include selling the naming rights. (Can’t Chicago keep one venue that isn’t advertising something?)

    “We have our niche and we know what we can attract,” Hart says. “We’ve never gonna attract the Madonnas or the Rolling Stones. But a lot of the up-and-coming bands--the Godsmacks or the Widespread Panics, they’re hitting here--and we’d like to do more of that.”

    Franklin is performing with a full horn section, and the great Otis Clay opens the show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50 and $49.50; call Ticketmaster at 312-559-1212, or visit the box office at 1150 W. Harrison.