Michael Graves | ‘Illusions Live’
Michale Graves, ex-lead singer of the reunited and reinvigorated Misfits in the mid to late 90s, returns from the, well, grave, with a live acoustic album recorded during the recent tour of his previous album “Illusions”, written with Damien Echols of West Memphis Three infamy. Contrary to popular belief, Graves didn’t fade into obscurity after he quit the Misfits in 2001 via the medium of an on-stage hissy fit; he has since put out 9 releases, varying from punk rock to dark rock, and it seems that acoustic rock is his preferred style now.
But it’s definitely an unexpected turn for Graves. Playing typically rocking Misfits tunes amidst a brace of self-penned acoustic numbers? There is simply no way that songs like ‘Dig Up Her Bones’ (off the “Illusions” album), ‘Fiend Club,’ ‘Shining’ and the other Misfits tracks could possibly work in an acoustic setting, but they succeed almost beyond belief. Graves’s voice is strong enough to send a shiver down your spine, and there is a palpable atmosphere, made especially easy to feel due to the fact that every gig played on the tour was in a small venue, tattoo shop, coffee shop, record shop, and the crowd can be heard singing along and talking, it really makes the listener feel as if they’re present.
In the liner notes it’s stated how much of the crowd are Fiends that came down in their full Misfits garb, not to mosh, but to sit and appreciate. They’re amply rewarded with the 4 Misfits tracks chosen to play acoustically, but they’re kept purposely low in number, as the night is about Michale Graves the solo artist.
There’s no skull makeup, no skeleton jacket, no bony trousers, in fact Graves has removed all the eponymous “Illusions” from his past life and instead gives us the bare bones of one man and one guitar captivating people. And captivate he certainly does. Graves has always been an accomplished songwriter, it’s no secret that he was the main writing force for the Misfits albums he recorded, (namely “American Psycho” and “Famous Monsters,”) and the acoustic tracks selected for this album are nothing short of magical.
‘Blackbird’ opens the album very strongly and very untypically, a genuinely attention grabbing song that screams underrated classic. It’s followed by a relaxed version of ‘Fiend Club,’ a song written for the Misfits to salute the dedication of their fans. It sounds oddly a lot more anthemic without all the extra production, drums, bass and electrics however, and does set a precendent for the rest of the album, which is on each song, you can’t help but imagine which ones would have suited the Misfits and which songs would seem out of place.
‘Beware’ is a stone cold, 100% Misfits song off Graves’s 2005 solo album “Punk Rock Is Dead” that you couldn’t picture being anything other than acoustic, even though it was originally recorded with a full electric backing band. It just works so well as a slower, more heartfelt unplugged number.
‘Ophelia’ bears the strongest resemblance to a Johnny Cash song, mostly because Graves sings in such a baritone during it, and employs the same vocal rhythms as Cash. It stands out in particular due to the dark romantic lyrics, and simply mesmerises throughout. ‘Shining’ comes up next, another Misfits number, which is slowed down a lot, sung quite differently than on “American Psycho,” and it ends up being far more melancholic and regretful than the original, which was more of a cautionary tale of warning.
Another track that comes across as as unreleased Misfits number is the awesome ‘Lucifer I Am.’ Again, you can only mentally play a backing track to Graves’s vocal, but it does seem like this is the “wrong” version of the song in a way, despite it only ever being an acoustic track. There’s no getting away from it really, Graves’s legacy is his Misfits stuff, and one can only try to imagine how tracks like ‘The Haunting,’ ‘ Dust To Dust’ and in particular how ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ and ‘Descending Angels’ would work as acoustic songs. They’d be beautiful, to be honest.
‘Scream’ is one of the tracks that excels, and an extended ad-libbed version is played which is interesting to listen to, but it’s the well chosen closer that ends the live part of the album on a high note. ‘Crying On Saturday Night’ is practically an acoustic number to start with, but it works magnificently, due to Graves’s vocals, which are easily the most charismatic doing the rounds at the minute. The crowd go utterly mental at the end of it too, and it’s an extremely satisfying end to the gig.
Six demo tracks off the forthcoming album “Viretta Park” are included as a bonus, ‘Blackbird’ being the absolute highlight, but having already heard it open the live part of the album, it does pale in comparison. The other tracks lack the atmosphere of the live songs, and although they’re a welcome bonus, they’re not really essential to the album at all.
Overall, this album is the most beguiling one this reviewer has heard in years. It’s best enjoyed alone in a darkened room with a glass of wine, just you, Michale Graves and an acoustic guitar, and some unexpectedly amazing songs. Highly, highly recommended.
4.6 / 5 – Dónal McBrien ::: 05/04/09