GWAR/Sacred Reich/Toxic Holocaust - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

GWAR / Sacred Reich / Toxic Holocaust

Live in Grand Rapids (2019)

live show

I’ve seen GWAR live about 15 times. More than any of my favorite bands. More than Agent Orange or Anthrax or Danzig or Metallica or Ministry or The Queers or Social Distortion or Sloppy Seconds or any of the other band I’ve seen at least ten times. Even more than DRI, who I had just seen the day before this show. The most amazing thing might be that I don’t own a single GWAR record. I pretty much have the discography of all the other bands I mentioned. So why do I keep going to their shows? Well, there’s actually three reasons. First, they’re fun and have a great stage show. Second, they almost always have great opening acts. Third, they come to Grand Rapids almost every year.

For the Use Your Collusion tour, (I love that they managed to mock both Trump and Guns N’ Roses in a single turn of phrase), they again enlisted excellent support. Sacred Reich, Toxic Holcaust and Against the Grain came along for this wild ride, which will last six weeks, and is certainly a long tour by modern standards. The GR show was downtown at the Intersection on Monday, September 16th. I had been out late seeing DRI the night before, so I was already tired when I showed up.

Still, I was there by 7:30 to see my dudes in Against the Grain. They had just started when I walked in. The 1500 capacity building was less than half full at this point, but there was a pretty good crowd up near the stage. I first saw this Detroit quartet (then quintet) at Tesco Fest in 2012, and have been following them ever since. I always try to catch them when they make it over to the sunny side of the state. Against the Grain call themselves speedrock, and their modern sound is a combination of Motörhead, Thin Lizzy and Zeke. They made the most of their 30 minute set, focusing mostly on newer material. Their cover of Motörhead’s “Say Clean” was the crowd favorite, and “Surrounded By Snakes” was my personal favorite.

Despite my love of thrash, I had somehow never managed to see Toxic Holocaust. Joel Grind and company really shouldn’t need much of an introduction. They are among the two or three best and most influential thrash bands of the new millenia. Their sound is a cross between the early speed metal and thrash of Kill ‘Em All, and the rawness of Venom. (My friend lovingly referred to them as “competent Venom”.) Grind spends a great deal of his time doing studio work for other bands, (including Against the Grain), but the new Toxic Holocaust record is finally set for release next month. Hopefully this means that TH will be getting more of his attention. Their great 35 minute set included favorites like “Acid Fuzz” and “Nuke the Cross”.

Maybe even more of a treat, was getting to see Sacred Reich for the first time. We couldn’t remember these politically charged, late ‘80s Arizona thrashers having ever been to GR. With ¾ of their classic lineup in tow, they seemed as happy to be there as we were to have them. The band is still led by bassist/vocalist Phil Rind and lead guitarist Wiley Arnett. Early to mid ‘90s drummer Dave McClain has also rejoined the fold after more than two decades in Machine Head. They also have a new record and a new hot shot 22 year old guitarist. When Sacred Reich released their previous album, Heal (1996), Joey Radziwill hadn’t even been born yet.

Rind and Arnett seem like the cool uncles that your mom wasn’t super crazy about you hanging out with as a kid. The kind who drove Camaros and snuck you beer at family gatherings. Anyway, their 45 plus minute set was split between songs from their new record Awakening, and older, now classic material. The new songs blended well with the old songs, and the new stuff was positively received. It definitely got my head banging. Despite the serious nature of their songs, they looked like they were having a lot of fun. I would love a chance to see them play a longer headlining set at a smaller venue. I’m sure most of the audience would agree.

Sacred Reich setlist:

Manifest Reality

The American Way

Divide and Conquer






Death Squad

Surf Nicaragua

Although the show started at a reasonable 7:30, it was 10:30 by the time GWAR hit the stage. This is too late on a Monday night. Especially for an old man who had been at a show the night before. It’s been many years since I’ve seen the band from within the splash zone, and my desire to be covered in fake bodily fluids ended before my 20s did. These days, I stand back and try to enjoy the story line. The narrative changes for every tour, and I must say, this one was not very inspired (or inspiring). Some people think the band should have died with Dave Brockie, but I don’t necessarily agree. I’ve seen some good post Brockie shows. This just wasn’t one of them.

It started out well enough. The idea was that GWAR was going to be tried for their various crimes by a secret international tribunal. If found guilty, they would be kicked off the planet. Of course, they brutally killed all the witnesses. A pregnant Cailyn Jenner (it looked about as much like Jenner as I do) was split in two. One poor soul got a pole shoved up his ass, and then was carried around like a chicken on a rotisserie. You probably get the picture. After a while it started to drag. The lackluster acting by the band members led me to believe that they knew the story wasn’t up to snuff.

By about 11:30, I was done. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t horrible. The band was tight musically, and they played some decent songs. Plus, plenty of fake blood, fake piss and fake jizz was shot all over the eager crowd near the stage. I was tired and I wasn’t drinking. A lethal combination at my age. I didn’t need the last half hour. Still, the whole Use Your Collusion tour package made for an enjoyable evening. The next day, a friend reminded me that we’ve now seen four sitting presidents get disemboweled by GWAR. Maybe that’s what really keeps me coming back.

Confessions of a merch whore: I had bought a ton of crap the night before, so I took it easy at this show. I was hoping for Sacred Reich and Toxic Holocaust patches, but neither had any. However, I couldn’t resist picking up the new Toxic Holocaust LP, Primal Future:2019, almost three weeks ahead of its official release date.