I have tried to write this article 3 different times and honestly I am not sure where to start. Monday night at the Cain’s Ballroom was quite an event. A spectacle 25 years in the making came zooming in from the frozen wasteland of Antarctica and left destruction and bodies in the wake. GWAR has landed.
Are they a band, are they mercenaries, are they our "Lords and Masters" as they claim to be? What is this that I have laid my eyes upon. The answer is simply yes.
In a show that was not for the weak at heart, 3 bands hit the stage and left jaws dropped and ears splitting. I am not even going to try and go through any of the songs simply because I didn’t understand a freaking word of what was said except for the times that a squeaking voice changed and said something about Tulsa.
This was by far the loudest show I have ever attended and left me feeling like I was way out of my element. At one point a concert (if you can call it that) goer came up and asked what the story was with myself and a buddy of mine that was standing next to me. "Are you guys fans?" he enquired. I replied, "I was a GWAR fan back in 1985 when they first came out, but kind of lost track of them in the years that followed." True I was a fan, but I had lost some of my angst and disdain for the adult establishment and world that I was forced to live in at that time.
The first group of the night was The Red Chord. A five piece unit that got the crowd revved up and primed for the night to come. The music was amazing. I am an old school metal fan so I was digging the guitars, thick bass lines and double bass of the drum kit. These guys had a very infectious groove to their approach. That aside I couldn’t tell you what their music was about or if any of the songs were actually any different from the rest. All I really heard was what sounded to me like an extended extremely loud burp sound into the microphone. But hey, the music itself was very cool.
The same can be said for the second band, Job for A Cowboy. Once again, a very heavy death metal group and yet again even though I could not understand the words I did feel a part of the music that was being played. These are tunes that make your insides churn and give you an almost sick feeling inside. It rattles your inner being and still has you looking to see what it is all about.
Was I out of my element? Without a doubt. Even still I was in the middle of exactly what I figured it would be. If I had wanted to listen to music that I wanted to sing along with I should have stayed home and put on something else, I was there for the atmosphere and to take in what was going on. More so to say at some point, "Yeah I saw them." than anything else. Besides I was there to see GWAR and in all honesty I could have done without the other 2 bands in attendance.
Let me lay some groundwork for what you can expect to see from the audience at this event. First, it was a very small crowd, only at 450-500 people. Most of them dressed in white to get covered with whatever the group shot out from stage. What made me shake my head the most were the little kids that were there. Eight, nine, maybe 10 years old at the most. Really!? This is what you bring your kids to on a Monday night. There is no target age for a GWAR show, as stated before there were little kids, teens, those of us approaching middle age and beyond.
The stage is adorned with plastic wrap around the monitors and black curtains hiding the side stage area. Funky outer space painted back drops and dividers that only added to the mystery and mystique of what was about to happen. A white sheet hangs down on the left side of the stage, this will be used as a video screen to add to the show. Most big names use video screens these days, but I am quite sure that none of them only spend $20 for them. GWAR does!
As the show begins, the sheet screen lights up and plays a moc-umentary of the band called "Behind the Murder" a spoof of the popular "Behind the Music" series from VH1. The video tells a short history of GWAR and how they came to be on earth. It seems that their manager, Sleazy P. Martini, is a fugitive crack cocaine dealer that has fled the country and crash landed in Antarctica only to find 5 creatures frozen in ice. The creatures thaw and he creates a band out of them. The creatures have been cast out of their home planet due to the accidental blowing up of a peace loving planet instead of a hostile rival planet. Ooops! These five beings are now trying to get back home and in doing so have vowed to thwart the attacks of Cardinal Sin, an evil warlord bent on intergalactic domination. Thus, the show begins.
If you are lost at this point, you are not alone. This concert (again used loosely) is about 20% music and 80% comic book come to life.
I am standing at what I would call the second row, my buddy is beside me and the rest of the frenzied crowd is about to lose their flipping minds. These alien creatures take the stage and the mayhem ensues. I tell my friend, "Here we go, it is about to get crazy."
The set is as loud and heavy as the others, what makes this different and dare I say it, very entertaining, is that a story is being told through every song they do. Although you can’t understand what is being said, it is being acted out on stage, or at least that is what I think is a happening.
The first song ends and suddenly a little man dressed in a funky looking space suit emerges with a cannon of some sort. Sure enough the band starts the next song and the gunner begins showering the crowd in green liquid. For the entire song, it is one long messy event. Each song after that followed the same formula. There were battles onstage that had an alien with a buzz saw for a hand cutting into another alien and shooting blood all over the crowd. Oderus Urungus, lead singer, at one point shot a green ooze from his, well……he had a 2 foot long…..I think you get the point. So for 2 hours it was a battle of good versus evil with humans caught in the middle and covered in what I hope was colored water with no extra additives.
This show really did have it all, if you are into a Nyquil induced hell ride into space and beyond. It was great fun. My buddies and I were laughing our heads off like we were in middle school and had just overflowed the toilets. Plus we all had very cheap souvenirs in that our shirts are now covered permanently in stains from another planet.
I am not sure if any of this story has made any sense to you the reader at all. Like I said before I am still not quite sure what I saw, but I am glad I saw it. If you have never seen GWAR live you owe it yourself to take this in. Make sure you bring your ear plugs and wear something that you have no problems letting go of as part of your normal wardrobe. You will not be disappointed.
Photographers note! I have photographed a few hundred concerts and GWAR was by far the most interesting! I have never been hunted down with what I can only call a ‘Bile Cannon’ while I am trying to photograph the artist, but it was a complete blast! In the gallery below you will see a photo of the little man and the canon right before he got me. I also included photos of the formerly white under shirt I had on (under a black t-shirt) that has become my souvenir from the show.
Photos: Kevin Pyle
About the writer:
Ernie Osborn is a California transplant that has been around the music business much of his life. He has been in bands and currently plays guitar and sings when called upon to do so.