November 5, 2014
The Regency Ballroom
“What about Oderus Urungus?”
That question was the proverbial elephant in the room upon GWAR’s announcement of their Eternal Tour, the infamously theatrical thrash-metal band’s first road dates since the passing — and Viking funeral — of frontman Dave “Oderus Urungus” Brockie at 50 this past March.
This year’s GWAR B-Q — the annual superfan gathering and music festival held in the band’s hometown of Richmond, Va. — provided some answers, and set the stage for GWAR’s future without their fallen frontman of 32 years. With the appointment of co-lead vocalists Michael “Blöthar” Bishop, and later, Kim “Vulvatron” Dylla, GWAR’s elaborate intergalactic monster mythology showed no signs of letting up.
[jump] The most impressive element of last night’s show at the Regency Ballroom, though — even outdoing the signature gimmickry of the band’s steampunk-Transformers costumes and bottomless supply of squirtable, fake blood — was just how ingeniously GWAR folded Oderus’ death into said mythology, centering the spectacle’s narrative arc around a grieving process of sorts, when many bands in the same position would’ve opted to either call it quits, or let the elephant in the room go unacknowledged.
The “plot” involved Blöthar, Vulvatron, and Co.’s attempts to bring Oderus back from the dead via time machine. Minimal luck was to be had, though, as their numerous attempts to revive Oderus accidentally beamed in: a) a pizza delivery guy from the future, b) Oderus’ severed dick (which, of course, proceeded to unload green goo all over the sweaty, mosh-happy crowd), and c) a Costco-sized crack rock resembling a boulder from The Flintstones.
GWAR may have foregone their infamous slaying of celebrities and public figures — prosthetic likenesses of OJ Simpson, Justin Bieber, and every American president since Reagan have fallen victim to the band’s sadistic whims during past shows — but the time-machine narrative lent GWAR’s gonzo theatrics a sense of cohesion and purpose we rarely expect from live rock music. And given the band’s penchant for big, loud, dumb gestures, this central theme of Oderus’ failed revival was handled with remarkable tact.
The proceedings came to a head with a faux-wake for Oderus, set to the tune of “Danny Boy,” before ripping into somewhat of a power-ballad, eulogizing GWAR’s great leader and coming to terms with the time machine’s inability to bring him back. One could hardly act so solemnly while drenching an audience with fake blood machines. The band’s twisted sense of humor rebounded fully, though, with a rollicking cover of the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” which Blöthar explained as an attempt to prove GWAR’s status as the world’s greatest band (because shouldn’t a group of that distinction be able to make “the worst band in the world”’s biggest hit totally rock?)
The crowd responded with rowdy, yet impressively polite, enthusiasm throughout, moshing like a dynamic breathing organism (fallen crowd-surfers were quickly lent a hand), and not an anarchic pile of humanity. But, while the music was plenty energizing in its combination of metal chops and punk brevity, the actual musical content wasn’t the point, really. I couldn’t name you a single GWAR song or lyric — although I know one of their records is fantastically titled Phallus In Wonderland — partially because this was my first blood-rodeo, but mostly due to GWAR’s more-brand-than-band status: a theatrical enterprise, bent on stage gimmickry, that happens to have a giant songbook at its disposal. Superfans might disagree, but the musical output seemed largely secondary to the showmanship of the whole operation.
As a pack of traveling circus freaks, GWAR certainly came to play, and dressed to impress. Blöthar donned a giant suit of antlers, sporting some nifty hybrid cock-udders, while Vulvatron resembled a go-go girl beamed in from some interplanetary Burning Man gathering, complete with ballooning prosthetic boobage. Nearly every exposed orifice spewed fake blood, Monty Python-style, at some point, living up to GWAR’s reputation as the messiest act in show business this side of Gallagher. The Regency Ballroom planned accordingly, draping their loudspeakers and ornately designed balcony with hefty tarps.
While the blood certainly flowed — audience members in white shirts soaked up plenty of red and green stains to take home and cherish for life — and while the show rocked and rolled with delicious stupidity, one couldn’t help but marvel at GWAR’s deft approach to the potentially crippling blow of Oderus’ absence. For a band defined by its relentless irreverence, Blöthar, Vulvatron, and their weirdo henchmen managed to address a tragic loss with genuine sincerity, while remaining totally committed to their filthy, hilarious vision. Few groups would choose to commemorate their departed captain by reeling in his severed, blood-spewing schlong through a cosmic time machine, but if by chance Oderus Urungus is floating around in the heaven of his home galaxy, surely he’s nodding in approval.