Twenty-five years ago, if someone told a rock fan that a band with a (mostly) crossover metal sound would sustain a career into 2011 wearing rubber monster suits and spewing fake blood while staging mock executions of pop icons and politicians alike, they would have reacted with disbelief, a slight chuckle, disgust, or rabid enthusiasm.
Twenty-five years later, a band that has made a career doing all of the above things gets all of those reactions, except the first one.
Currently on tour in support of their latest album, Bloody Pit of Horror, Gwar invaded Allentown’s Crocodile Rock Caféwith Mesrea and Mobile Deathcamp as openers on February 18th. Like Slayer, The Ramones and other cult favorites before them, Gwar are difficult headliners to open for and none of the openers on this tour had it easy. Mobile Deathcamp, however, succeeded in making a somewhat distinctive impression despite not having a particularly distinctive sound. The Toledo, Ohio three-piece, which features ex-Gwar member Todd Evans, played crossover thrash not heard since the 1980s heyday of bands like S.O.D., and it didn’t sound much differently from their predecessors, either. Complete with tuneless solos and rapidly-picked pedal tone riffs on the low E string, and even a few bad jokes thrown in for good measure, Mobile Deathcamp at least connected with the audience a little better than Mensrea, whose monotonous deathcore-driven sound was only broken up by occasional melodies that would be more at home on Linkin Park record.
Gwar have long been an exception to the rather bland rock landscape of the last twenty-five years. They were the Religious Right’s worst nightmare in their early years (frontman Oderus Urungus was even arrested in North Carolina for brandishing a fake oversized penis onstage during a performance, inspiring the title of their 1992 album, America Must Be Destroyed), and they were theatrical in the 1990s when the grunge/alternative bands eschewed such antics. So what better way for a band like this to keep their fans satisfied (and critics mortified) than to keep doing the same thing over and over again? Squirting blood —or rather, water with red food coloring in it, mock dismemberments of celebrities like Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga, and battles with oversized mutants and robots have all been Gwar’s stock in trade for over two decades; yet the fans still eat it up even when minor glitches still happen. The giant robot’s entrails squirted more water than blood, and a piece of Oderus Urungus’s armor came off two songs into the show, but it wasn’t enough for anyone to notice that the only thing that typically changes in a Gwar show is the setlist; the lone mainstay being the band’s encore, “Sick of You.” Say what you want about Gwar — they’re crude, gimmicky, redundant, politically incorrect, etc, etc, ad nauseam —at this point in the band’s long career they’ve heard it all before, and saying that to them and their loyal fanbase to dissuade them in any way is like telling Charlie Sheen to sober up.