TVD Live: GWAR at the 9:30 Club, 12/20

By now, the spectacle that is a live GWAR show has become the stuff of legend. The extra-terrestrial warriors from the planet Scumdogia (or Richmond, VA, depending on whom you ask) have been horrifying audiences since their debut album, Hell-O, was released in 1988. Much to their fans’ delight, their live show has gotten messier and more offensive with every passing year, and Thursday night (12/20) at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. was no exception.

December in D.C. has become something of a tradition for GWAR, with the visit being affectionately known as “Gwarmas.” (The occasional October visit is known as “Gwar-o-ween.”) As you entered the main floor of the 9:30, the first thing that you noticed is that the club had been GWAR-proofed, with massive plastic sheets hung covering the speakers and protecting the bars from the carnage. The mood in the air was celebratory, with everyone in attendance buzzing with excitement over what was about to transpire, except for the occasional skeptical glance from first-time attendees.

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The bill was solely composed of bands from Richmond, VA, and first to take the stage was Iron Reagan, a hardcore/thrash crossover band featuring two members of Richmond thrashers Municipal Waste (vocalist Tony Foresta and guitarist Phil “LandPhil” Hall) and two former members of DC metal heroes Darkest Hour (drummer Ryan Parrish and bassist Paul Burnette).

Iron Reagan charged like a locomotive from song to song, with each song a brutal flurry of hardcore-influenced metal, yet only clocking in around the 1 minute mark per song. The crowd eagerly responded with moshing that ended up looking like a cockfight, as two beefy guys continually squared off and charged at each other. After playing songs like “Cycle of Violence” and “Midlothian Murder Mile,” singer Foresta announced to the audience that they had demo cassettes, white t-shirts, and one-sided vinyl for sale at the merch counter, proudly proclaiming, “We are marketing geniuses.”  Iron Reagan finished out their set with “Eat Shit and Live,” and some of the crowd filed out into the cold rain during the set change.

Up next for the night was Kepone. The band got its’ start in 1991 as a side project of vocalist/bassist Michael Bishop, who was the original Beefcake the Mighty in the early days of GWAR. Introducing their set by simply saying, “And now for something completely different,” Kepone propelled into a heavy yet groove-laden set. Their sound was one that was, at times, fairly hard to pinpoint: heavy, grungy Melvins-like one minute, a technical, proggy jam the next.

One song, the heavy “295,” was the second song of the night devoted to a Richmond highway. (Iron Reagan’s “Midlothian Murder Mile” being the first.) Kepone was accepted warmly by the crowd, most of all by the two gladiatorial cockfighters who continued their duel from the first set. Rounded out by talented guitarist/vocalist Tim Harriss and the heavy precision of drummer Ed Trask, Kepone was all business, with few frills. They finished up their set with approval, and the crowd roared during the set change as the landscape of the previously hidden GWAR stage was revealed.

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Finally the lights went down, a choir of angels began singing, and the voice of “God” came over the P.A., announcing the impending end of the world, and his intention of destroying GWAR once and for all. A cadence of bagpipes began, and an effigy of Mitt Romney and another creature wandered onstage, and as the band went into “Horror of Yig,” both were decapitated, sending streams of blood flying onto the elated audience. After “Womb with a View,” singer Oderus Urungus (née Dave Brockie) welcomed the crowd to the evenings horrors and introduced their newest Scumdog, new guitarist Pustulus Maximus. They followed that with a new song written by Pustulus, “Madness at the Core of Time,” a technical, crushing song that was well-received and had the pit in a frenzy.

The set went on with their trademark blend of metal and theatrics. “Saddam a Go-Go” saw a mock priest (Father Bohab) cut in half and sodomized by a sword, “Krosstika” saw the return and quick demise of Adolph Hitler, as Oderus tore the face off, sending gore flying. Throughout the set, GWAR was assisted by their slaves and “Oderus’ friend” Bonesnapper the cave troll. Each subsequent blood-spraying event got the crowd covered and yet more eager to get hosed down some more.

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The band was sounding better than ever, and with costumes that have to be seen to be believed, characters like Jizmak Da Gusha (drums), Beefcake the Mighty (bass), and Balsac the Jaws of Death (rhythm guitar) provided the perfect soundtrack to the event occurring around them. Alternating from older material (“Black and Huge,” “Have You Seen Me?”) to more recent material (“Metal Metal Land,” “Hail, Genocide!”), GWAR gave the crowd everything they came to expect, with the music and the carnage becoming intertwined, the show being incomplete without one or the other.

To strike back in the evening’s battle with God, GWAR wheeled out Jesus on a cross, and proceeded to crucify and rip him apart during “Immortal Corruptor.” Later, during the instrumental “A Short History of the End of the World,” God announced that he had created something to defeat GWAR once and for all, and the massive Super Cyborg Jesus came onto the stage and battled with (and was bloodily defeated by) Bonesnapper and Cyborg Oderus, to the roaring approval of the crowd. GWAR finished out their set with “Rock and Roll Never Felt So Good.” The lights went down, and the crowd demanded more mayhem.

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After a brief lapse, an effigy of Barack Obama came onstage, and after some racial humor (such as announcing a country of only black people, and free malt liquor for everyone), GWAR returned and decapitated him, sending more blood into the audience. As they played “Warghoul,” an addition of green liquid spewed onto the crowd from Oderus’ three-foot long alien penis, dubbed “The Cuttlefish of Cthulhu.”

What followed was Oderus and GWAR paying tribute to fallen guitarist Flattus Maximus. In November, 2011, guitarist Cory Smoot passed away from coronary artery disease, and the Flattus Maximus character was retired.  Oderus led the crowd in chants of  “FLATTUS! FLATTUS!” and dedicated a cover of the Kansas hit “Carry On Wayward Son” to him, playing it in their own unique style. The night came to an end with their signature song, “Sick of You,” with three slaves sending a deluge of blood through the air from massive spinning saw blades.

The lights came up, as everyone on the lower level of the club recovered from the experience, the audience and club staff both comparing amounts of gore on themselves and wounds inflicted in the havoc of the night. As the midnight hour and the prophesied Mayan End of the World approached (we know how that turned out), all in attendance agreed that the spectacle of a GWAR show was the perfect way to spend the last night on earth.

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Photos: Dave Barnhouser, 13th Hour Photography

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