By Hollister Dixon
While waiting for GWAR, the 30-year-old Metal institution, to take the stage, I had the following conversation with Yousef Hatlani, my dear cohost:
Yousef: You know you have to get drenched, if this is your first GWAR show.
Me: Fuck that, dude. It’s 38 degrees out right now.
Which is an ugly truth right now. We’re a month away from the beginning of winter, but a bitter, windy cold descended on Portland that day, and even layered up, the 10-minute walk to the Roseland was punishing. The last thing I wanted to do after that performance was walk out at nearly midnight, into that weather, drenched in fake blood and viscera. And yet, two hours later, I emerged from the doors of the Roseland, dazed and drenched in fake blood and viscera. What changed?
The answer: you can’t help but get into the spirit of things at a GWAR show.
It’s a sad truth that this was my very first GWAR show – “Oh shit, I forgot! I guess I’ll catch them next time, they’re not going anywhere” has been my accidental refrain every single time – and the band’s first Portland date since the tragic passing of the band’s frontman/head Scumdog David Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus) in March. Unsurprisingly, Brockie’s death resulted in a very ugly question: “Does this mean the end of GWAR?” And, for most bands, the answer would be “Yes”. But, GWAR isn’t most bands. And so, the band created The Eternal Tour, as a way to send Oderus off in a way that let everyone pay their respects. Brockie’s vocal duties were picked up by the rest of the group, including reinstated vocalist /vocalist Beefcake the Mighty, as well as two new Scumdogs: Blóthar the Berserker (bedecked with several thick pelts, an enormous set of antlers, and – because why not? – udders [which Blóthar referred to as his “bag of dicks”]), and the Scumdog assassin Vulvatron, with incredible blonde dreadlocks and massive blood-squirting breasts. It’s a testament to the importance of Oderus that three people were required to replace him (more, if you count everyone else in the band who performed a song or two), and even though everybody in the room was there to mourn the loss, the reception to Blóthar and Vulvatron was incredible.
The story that unfolds every night of The Eternal Tour is somewhat convoluted, but I’ll attempt to explain: at the top of the show, a projection of the band’s manager, Sleazy P. Martini, appears to ask the question on everybody’s mind: “But what about Oderus?” It turns out, he’s been sucked through a time vortex, to a time without rock. After Blóthar arrives to discover his absence, he decides to help lead GWAR, as well as attempt to manipulate a time machine into bringing back Oderus. In the first “act” of the performance, vocal duties are assumed by Blothar, as well as Bonesnapper (who performed “I, Bonesnapper” and got called a “ninja turtle” by Balsac the Jaws of Death) and Sawborg Destructo (whose giant sawblade arm spewed blood over the front row during “The Private Plan of Sawborg Destructo”), though everyone onstage agrees that neither of them quite fit.
Oderus never reappears, but the band does pull three things from their time machine: a future pizza delivery creature (Beefcake the Mighty wanted a pizza!), Oderus’ famed penis, the Cuddlefish of Cthulhu (“He must have mistaken the time portal for a gloryhole! I made the same mistake the first 200 times I saw it,” explains Blóthar), and the aforementioned Vulvatron, who lets the band know that a monster named Mr. Perfect has taken Oderus. In one last-ditch effort, the band attempts to lure him from where he’s been taken with the one thing that he cannot resist: drugs. This is where the show takes an almost absurdly dark turn, as a giant rock labeled “CRACK” appears onstage, as well as a massive pill and a gigantic syringe. It’s hard to imagine another band doing anything like this, especially considering Brockie’s death was chalked up to a heroin overdose, but – again – GWAR is not any other band. Near the end, from the portal, the massive and terrifying Mr. Perfect arrives, to tell everyone that he has stolen Oderus’ immortality and impaled him on his own sword. In an act of revenge, the rest of the band tears Mr. Perfect to pieces and beheads him, leaving him squirting blood from at least four different places. Dejected and leaderless, the band left the stage, only to return to the sound of “O’ Danny Boy”‘s haunting bagpipes, where the band did a rousing version of “The Road Behind”, as well as a cover of “West End Girls” by Pet Shop Boys, and an updated cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died”. It was an incredibly poignant way to end things, and the crowd lapped up every moment of it.
Though few people will be talking about it, the performance was a testament to the power of both music and comedy as a way to heal. Oderus was the second member of the band to die in the last three years; Flattus Maximus (aka Cory Smoot) was found dead of coronary episode in November of 2011. And yet, against the odds, GWAR have put together a stage show perfectly designed to help the members work through the pain of losing another friend, despite having every reason to simply call it quits. They’ve done their best to soldier on and never lose what makes them a band that breeds the level of intense devotion that they’ve managed to cultivate for 30 years.
It’s hard to really imagine this particular show being any more fun, even considering the purpose of the tour. Despite staying firm that I would avoid any and all blood spray, by the end I was happily getting hit in the face by the cannons of blood being shot into the crowd during “People Who Died”. If you haven’t seen the band perform before, it’s easy to think you might not enjoy things, or that you won’t quite get into the spirit. But GWAR is a band that exudes raw, uncut charisma, and they put on a stage show like absolutely nobody else. The night may not have been as unhinged as it could have been (they abstained from beheading a celebrity, though they did have a beheaded security guard), but it felt right to take things down a notch in honor of their fallen friend. In the end, it would have been an insult to the memory of Oderus to not allow myself to be soaked in blood as much as possible. And, really, my biggest regret is that I didn’t wear a white shirt to the show.
Hail Oderus Urungus, and long live GWAR!