I am going to write this review of Friday’s GWAR show at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, NY with the assumption that many people reading this have never heard of the band, and/or have never seen them in concert. To state it as simply as possible, GWAR is a heavy metal band that has now been around for 25 years. There is an entire mythology as to their alien origins and their path of metal music and destruction here on Earth. It’s an amusing tale that you can read about on their website, if you’re so inclined.
From a strictly musical standpoint, GWAR is a decent metal band – they throw in elements of thrash, speed metal, and even a little punk for good measure, but mainly they’re pretty straightforward heavy metal. Their music is not necessarily memorable, but they do have some catchy riffs and head-banging beats. But GWAR has not stayed around this long because of their music. GWAR’s live act is what has kept them playing for 25 years to a diverse and devoted cult following.
As you can see from the photo, the costumes are quite elaborate. They’re a cross between alien technology, sado-masochistic bondage gear and demonic ugliness. Lead singer Oderus Urungus sports a cartoonishly large black phallus to compliment his thong underwear. So just seeing these guys perform their songs in this getup is quite amusing. But it’s what happens during the songs that truly defines the band’s shtick.
Weird alien characters, politicians and pop culture icons manage to appear on stage during each show (in the form of giant foam rubber costumes). GWAR and/or their minions then proceed to kill, maim, torture, rape, cannibalize and otherwise dismember these characters, while the band blasts their metal music into the crowd. And if that’s not enough, when these poor souls are being ripped apart, fountains of fake blood, vomit, semen and other excremental fluids are sprayed into the adoring throng of mosh-pitters and crowd surfers; red, blue, green and black streams gush forth from intestinal cavities, decapitated heads, and even from Urungus’ giant black unit.
Each GWAR tour utilizes a narrative of sorts, derived from their mythology, to half-heartedly explain the appearance of weird characters during the songs. It’s half-hearted because the audience really doesn’t care – they just want to see blood and guts. It’s all very silly and immature and cartoonish, but the band obviously knows this, and thus doesn’t – nay, can’t – take themselves seriously. But they keep it just serious enough that you get sucked into their world for 80 minutes or so, and enjoy the fun, mindless entertainment while you’re there.
Northern Lights was packed on Friday night, and GWAR draws an eclectic mix of people. There were metal-heads for sure, eager to mosh it up. There was a punk element as well, which makes sense since GWAR embraces a punk attitude of non-conformity and absurdity. The Goth scene was also represented, attracted by the horror and evil. From the opening notes of GWAR’s set, the crowd responded very enthusiastically, and GWAR did not disappoint. I will admit that I did not bother to check out the names of any of the songs they played, because honestly, it really doesn’t matter. The show is what counts for GWAR, and put on a show they did. Michael Jackson made an appearance with a giant mutated baby – after dancing around a bit, Urungus ripped off Jackson’s face to reveal a bloody mess beneath. That horrific infant would later get impaled by Urungus’ giant sword, much to the crowd’s delight. A 7-foot robot appeared during a later song, looking like something out of Godzilla film. But we soon discovered that it had flesh and blood underneath its metal frame; when its arms were ripped off, a fire hose-strength stream of blood doused the crowd. For the encore, our president himself, Barack Obama, jaunted on stage wearing a crown and carrying a cane. He presented GWAR with some sort of medal for kicking ass, at which point Urungus grabbed the cane and nearly decapitated Obama with it (nearly, because his head was dangling from his neck). The song began, blood began to spurt from Obama’s neck, and then he danced around to the song, head dangling and blood flowing.
Obviously GWAR is not for everyone. It’s over-the-top offensive for the sake of being offensive, it’s gross, it’s goofy and disgusting and so much fun! A GWAR show is not a music show – it’s performance art. But most performance art is supposed to be taken seriously, even though when you see it you want to laugh sometimes at how silly it is. GWAR knows it’s silly – ridiculously silly – and so everyone laughs, including them. GWAR is an entertainment machine, pure and simple. I don’t own any GWAR music – I don’t think it’s good enough (or interesting enough) to stand on its own. But when you see the show, it all works marvelously. And judging from the soaked clothes and smiling faces leaving the venue Friday night, the GWAR machine can probably roll on for another 25 years.
Hitting the stage before GWAR was Phoenix-based Job for a Cowboy, who may want to consider taking their name literally and look for work elsewhere. As death metal bands go, they were extremely average, uninventive, and dull. There were occasional moments of good riffs and guitar soloing, but there were few tempo changes and little crowd interaction by the lead singer, who was very hard to understand during the few moments he did try and address the Capital Region mass.
By contrast, opening band The Red Chord was much more enjoyable. The Boston-based grindcore/death metal band had some killer riffs, a sharp sound, and their short set featured a great 5-minute instrumental segment. Lead vocalist Guy Kozowyk was very engaging, even going so far as to call out the type of mosh-pitting he wanted to see, like a square dance caller at a hoedown: “Circle pit, right now!” “Crowd surfing, let’s go!” It was very amusing, and the crowd, many of whom had apparently made the trek from Beantown to see the band, gleefully obliged.
This GWAR show gets 4 out of 5 stars.