With the unexpected death of its lead guitarist just last year, Gwar's recent tour has been one of finalization and retrospection. When the group playedtThe Regency Ballroom in San Francisco April 6, the band retained its usual biting criticism of the human condition, but also incorporated an unprecedented solemnity into its act.
Clearly, the death of their comrade is heavily on the band's mind. The set opened with the Grim Reaper himself creeping onto the stage. He then proceeded to speak in Shakespearean couplets, and in a wink to Ingmar Bergamn, challenged Gwar lead vocalist Oderus Urungus to a game of death, with the phrase, "Shall we play / or will you just continue to be fucking gay?"
Although Oderus replied that he would simply continue to be gay, the band attacked the Grim Reaper and pushed him back off stage, thereby occupying his "Castle of Death."
The passing of guitarist Flattus Maximus by genetic heart disorder has forced the band to reorganize. Instead of immediately bringing in a replacement, long time rhythm guitarist Balzac (who looks like a Minotaur with a bear trap for a face) assumed the lead position.
This set up was unique for several reasons. Primarily, this is the first time in its 27 year existence that Gwar has played as four-piece. Under Flattus' tooling, Gwar's guitar was very much a modern thrash, a combination of the berserk charging of Matt Pike's crushing riffs and the technical precision of In Flames. But, perhaps because Balzac is a generation older, Gwar's sound was noticeably changed. Instead of a wall of crushing white noise, the band was now a more focused riff-oriented group. They weren't as "loud" as previously exhibited, but the underlying swing of the music became more apparent, more similar to Exodus and old Anthrax than Trivium. Certainly, neither style is "better" than the other, but it was interesting to hear Gwar in a looser style not heard since the early '90s.
Perhaps to accommodate its newest phase, the band played a mixture of newer tunes and older rarities. While modern Gwar shows often focused on the band's dynamite newest material from 2001's Violence Has Arrived onward, the older selections were updated and performed in stronger versions than their studio counterparts. Although Flattus is irreplaceable, perhaps Gwar should continue working on new material as a four-piece, as the older school flavor of the band seems to work well with the new tunes, giving Gwar an originality in the face of the newer, more technical (and less soulful) metal bands.
As is its wont, during the show, the band battled a number of celebrities and creatures. The Jägermonster, a skeletal deer-dinosaur, was ripped limb from limb. Later on, the Jersey Shore's Snookie was wheeled out on a stretcher. Wasting little time, the band disemboweled her and proceeded to eat her unborn baby.
Lead singer Oderus Urungus was mostly his usual self, flipping between rage and depression with each quarter note. Yet, an underlying seriousness did seem to weigh on him throughout the performance. At numerous times, he dedicated songs and the performance to Flattus.
Near the end, the Grim Reaper returned, only to be de-masked and revealed as long time arch nemesis of Gwar, SawBorg Destructo. Of course, he battled the band and ended up getting his cyborg bits ripped from his body.
Finally, and in fitting response to its more old school sound, the band allowed the mighty "World Maggot" to slither on stage. A massive beast that the band plans to ride into space upon maturity, the World Maggot crawled out from under the drum riser and reared, standing on its haunches close to 15 feet tall. The band then forced several nubile young women onto the stage and hurled them into the gasping jaws of the creature, only to have them sucked into its innards. After a male somehow found himself caught up in the sacrifices, Urungus exclaimed, "How did a dude get on stage?" Then, somewhat perplexingly, although the band planned to use the maggot as a vehicle for space travel, they began to battle it and eventually ripped off its head.
After their ride had been eviscerated, the band played its forgotten ballad and tribute to the rigors of touring life, "The Road Behind." Somewhat uncharacteristically, the band thanked San Francisco for support before leaving the stage, as the theater faded to black with only Flattus' guitar illuminated by a spotlight and Sinatra's "My Way" drifting from the sound system.
Openers Municipal Waste wasted no time in getting down to their thrash throwback that equally was appreciative and skewering of '80s thrash. Unlike its more…humorless…contemporaries, Municipal Waste ripped through an invigorating set that thrashed with the best of them, but rocked too, so that the music was as snappy as it was brutal. The selections from the group's newest LP, The Fatal Feast, show that Municipal Waste is evolving slightly into a more mature sound, but only mature in the sense that saying "excuse me" after a thunderous burp is better than saying "thank you very much." And for Municipal Waste, that's just as it should be.
-I first got into Gwar through the BMG music club, because I ordered a CD thinking that they were an Oi! punk band. Thank heavens I was wrong, for in those formulative years, my music taste was shaped by this mistake and I was treated to one of the most artistic groups to ever exist in place of the stale chants of "down at the pubs, oi oi oi."
-In general, there are more drunk buffoons at metal shows than the punk shows, but the percentage of obliterated jackasses in higher at punk shows.
-I notice more and more at concerts featuring more extreme acts, that in groups of four or more people, there is someone always having a "bad time" that ruins it for everyone else. Don't be that person, people.
-Despite its setback, Gwar still sounds fantastic. I hope the band records an LP with the four-piece set up, in the style of their last four or so albums.
-Gwar Set list:
-A gathering of Ghouls
-Storm is Coming
-Saddam a go go
-Bring Back the Bomb
-Crack in the Egg
-Metal Metal land
-Uberklaw (although other sites say Tormentor, I think it was Uberklaw)
-Ham on the Bone
-Sick of You
-The Road Behind