There are two competing impossibilities walking into a GWAR show on this tour. First, that the band has really been around for thirty years and where-does-the-time-go, while the second, and perhaps more impossible impossibility, is that such a band could survive, and indeed thrive, for thirty years in the first place.
The battle, such as it was, began appropriately enough with Battlecross, the raucous band of thrash upstarts who specialize in the abstract concepts of ‘loud’ and ‘fun.’ As we discussed not so long ago with the release of their recent album, Battlecross works best as a singles band who can produce electric moments. So it stands to reason that seeing them live is essentially a gleeful highlight showcase, and such was the case on this evening. Battlecross, when they slam into “Force Fed Lies” to lead their set, marks an important pace car for the rest of the evening. The fury of their sound, the resounding ring of their guitar tone and the eminent pleasure they get from playing sets the bar awfully high for everyone who follows. This trend continued whether new or old material, while singer Kyle Gunther plays his humorous hand to the crowd, extolling the virtues of purchasing a t-shirt in order to prevent your car from being destroyed by GWAR’s ‘spew.’ Within all that though, the band fired off two of their classics, one of which is an all-timer. “Flesh and Bone” remains the most potent song in the band’s arsenal, sounding every bit as powerful and neck-ruining as it does on disc, while “Push Pull Destroy” is ever the thundering clarion of the band. The crowd, while seemingly not wholly familiar with the band, ended up both appreciative and enthralled.
Which takes us to Butcher Babies. There is no ambiguity to the presentation of this band and what our eyes are supposed to be attracted to. The energetic gyrations and machinations of Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey is both enticing and alluring. There is a certain unavoidable charisma not only in the obvious physical embellishment of the pair, but in the overflowing attitude of chaotic encouragement that permeates all that they do. The other two band members wear nothing but common stage black, almost as though they are not allowed to have personality that might rival the dynamic duo at the front of the stage. For all that, the pounding that characterizes all of the band’s singles and doesn’t always translate on a recorded medium works reasonably well at stirring the crowd into comparative madness. Fan favorites like “Blonde Girls All Look the Same” and “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” were equally adept at selling the band’s wares, both songs a flurry of flowing, dyed hair and stomping Chuck Taylors on the stage, with the accordant milling and smashing of the mosh pit below. The set continued much in this fashion, never relenting all the way through the final note of the set’s closer “Magnolia Blvd.”
The final act of course was the thirtieth anniversary tour of GWAR, their second sojourn since the untimely passing of Oderus Urungus. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect that an anniversary tour would be chock full of nostalgia and random, gleefully sordid memories of yesteryear. Say what you will about GWAR, but they have never been a band that looks backward, and so this tour would be no different. Where the last outing left us with the forlorn and failing mission to save Oderus from the perils of a time vortex he had been lost in, this new adventure picks up in a more corporeal setting. The band, still trying to find their way in the wake of their loss, comes to find out that the internet at large is trolling them, and thus in typical somewhat-well-intentioned GWAR fashion they take steps to kill the internet. Along the way is the usual spate of blood and gore and genuinely funny banter centered on otherwise outrageously offensive subject matter. GWAR, as ever, is so adept at engaging in the absurd that what would be scandalously inappropriate in any other social conversation seems perfectly at home here.
The only indication that GWAR was willing to acknowledge the passing of thirty years was that they unearthed a lot of old material that fans had likely stashed away in their memory as songs that ‘GWAR doesn’t play anymore.’ Chief among these selections, to the surprise of the gathered throng, was “Jack the World” known to GWAR fans mostly as ‘that song on “This Toilet Earth” that ISN’T “Saddam A Go-Go.” Not content to stop the memory train there, GWAR soldiered through a goodly chunk of their back musical forty, including going all the way back to heartfelt recitations of “I’m in Love (With a Dead Dog)” and “Captain Crunch” from 1988’s “Hell-O.”
What’s important to note is that GWAR approached both new and old material (of which the balance was about an even split,) with equal fervor and dedication. Continuing in the new GWAR workflow, the band lets different members take their assorted turns at the lead vocals, which does lend for a rangy performance. That said, Blothar carries the bulk of the material himself, leading the collective way through “Madness at the Core of Time,” and other popular new material including the seminal “Metal Metal Land.” In this regard, the band has lost no steam at all, each individual musician remains just as talented as ever, which has been an increasingly important trait of GWAR in the last ten years.
That said, the show still isn’t the same without Oderus. It’s still enjoyable and highly entertaining, and watching the band tear the skin off of and defeat ‘The Internet Troll’ at the show’s climax still gives a sense of reward to the viewer; none of that has been altered. Nevertheless, the boots of Oderus remain difficult to fill. Not impossible, as this tour already shows the band at a greater level of cohesion than the previous, but it will take time.
In the here and now, GWAR as ever remains GWAR. There will always be “Sick of You,” there will always be colored fluid, and it will always be a show worth seeing. That’s really the bottom line.