SAYREVILLE, NJ—Joey Ramone was an ancient 45-years-old during his band’s final tour in 1996, and he sang “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat” until the bitter end. The human life form that inhabits GWAR’s frontman Oderus Urungus is a bit older than Joey was then, but he is no weaker. In fact, instead of “beat on the brat,” Urungus is declaring, “Let me shove this sword up this alien baby’s pussy.”
Yup. GWAR is touring to celebrate 25 years on Planet Earth. Their stated mission has something to do with consuming crack cocaine and total domination. Their accomplishments so far seems to be soaking fans with dyed liquids while putting on a kabuki-vaudeville controversy comedy showcase to a soundtrack of mostly unmemorable thrash songs.
But going to see GWAR for the music is like going to a high school football game for the bleacher seats. Sure, there might be a sentimental familiarity to that uncomfortable piece of metal, but you wouldn’t keep sitting there if there were nothing to watch. Which is why GWAR spends every moment onstage engaging its audience with a blood/goo geyser stream or video/light sensation. As soon as the “Time Until Death” countdown is completed, the stage is transformed into an epileptic machine of crack rain. For a moment, the white light display cuts the steamy air overhead and it looks like crystal rocks are literally falling from above.
Give the art students some credit. Here they are, seven grown men in loin-thongs, gyrating and mashing while balancing an assortment of rubbers and foams on their torsos for an hour-and-a-half. And in character! It’s an impressive feat. And think of all the plastic sheeting they’ve laid down beforehand? The lights, the soundboard, the bar near the stage—it’s a lot of work.
About 40 minutes in, you lose count of all the people they’ve killed. One is a 12-foot tall robot piloted by two babies, while another is a green lizard that has four mouths. A captured foe is strapped down to have its flesh and muscle pulled at until there’s just some blood-soaked bone and a nervous system. Michael Jackson (who is the first of many to rape the two-bodied alien baby) gets his face ripped off and shoots blood from his skeletal face, that makes him look like the Predator with finer hair. At the start if the encore, Barack Obama is decapitated with a diamond scepter. All gush red and green liquids proportionately at all sections of the mosh.
Of course, child molestation and mock political assassination are very dodgy territory. It’s downright felonious (and has probably garnered a few visits from the Secret Service). Just about any homophobic, misogynistic, racist thing could get a cheer from the audience, with the cry of, “Kill! Kill!” As chilling as the humans’ behavior can be, the members of GWAR at some point stop being of this planet and are lifted completely into their own orbit of vulgarity, sucking all the oxygen out of their bit through a vacuum of camp. There’s almost nothing they can do that is too outrageous because like Elvis, reality has left the building. The gravity of acceptable behavior is suspended.
And then it ends. Watching the crowd disperse after the encore reminds of how much of a show GWAR puts on and how lightly the audience takes it. There are sweaty high school kids flaunting their stained white t-shirts for the camera, as they pile together for Facebook photos. Near the stage, some older people are slapping high-fives to the balding, thong-assed roadies as they break down the props. A couple of 20-somethings booty dance to The BeeGees playing over the sound system, sliding around the soaked floor.
In all of this, GWAR is kind of lost. Their show is so big, it leaves them as bit players in their bid for domination. Something tells me that after 25 years, that’s the idea.