The anticipation was both palpable and unspoken. The collective combination of hope and grief was evident on the faces on the gathered throng. Still, it was undeniable that less human fodder had assembled to stand in front of GWAR. Whether that was the product of a cold, snowy night when people are Christmas poor or whether it was the manifestation of doubt about GWAR’s ability to continue in the wake of their founder’s death was uncertain, but the brave masses rolled into the venue hoping for the best.
The greeting for the first half of the evening was Corrosion of Conformity, the veterans from North Carolina who now roll as a three piece and come on stage looking like their best days might be behind them. Their set is unadorned even by a banner with a name, the band feeling content to merely play in front of the shrouded gear of GWAR. Woody Weatherman even came dressed, either through intention or accident, a lot like The Dude during his bowling hallucination from “The Big Lebowski” (and so by extention, like the cable guy, I guess.)
While the performance of CoC perhaps lacks the menace that it has in years prior and for some fans the absence of Pepper Keenan remains a sticking point, the band is still more than capable of bringing the groove when the situation requires. After languishing slightly through “Seven Days” and “Brand new Sleep,” suddenly the game was on for “The Doom” and fan favorite “Vote With a Bullet.”
Overall, CoC’s performance was efficient and unspoken, but not unfriendly. The joy of live performance is still evident on the face of Weatherman, Dean and Mullin, and nobody loves their music more than they do. Perhaps the set could have had a little more oomph in the punch, but the deep moments were ocean trenches and the riffs thrummed as one would expect.
GWAR, as always, began with a bang. A short video from GWAR’s on-again off-again manager Sleazy P. Martini recounted some of the events of Oderus’ departure, promptly followed by a video montage of images of the erstwhile frontman as the band exploded into “Fly Now.” Without pause, the gimmick of the evening was introduced – a time machine through which the band might have been able to bring Oderus back, roughly explained (or not) by an energetic performance of “Madness at the Core of Time.” New vocalist Blothar, played by original Beefcake the Mighty Michael Bishop, had a genuinely funny interaction with current Beefcake Jamison Land, and away the show went.
Blothar brings a slightly different element to the proceedings, an ever-so-distant harkening back to GWAR’s early days when punk was more the feeling and the band was, even if it seems impossible, more in your face than the vaudeville of recent years. Still, the humor works as the band goes through the motions of tormenting fan favorite Bonesnapper the Cave Troll, and the music is just as solid, especially during a remarkably good “The Private Pain of Sawborg Destructo,” sang by the titular character himself.
Listen, there are some rough edges here and some on the job training going on with GWAR. Every band member new or old is trying to figure out their role in filling the gigantic void left by Oderus’ death, which was probably to be expected. This makes for more opportunity for each member to take center stage and indeed it felt like everyone had a turn at vocals, but the band also was juggling a lot of elements, which wasn’t always seamless. During “Saddam A Go-Go” and the song on either side, it sure seemed like there were a lot of people on that stage, all doing something distractingly different. To that end, for all the hype of Vulvatron, the character is marginally underused, which seemed counter-intuitive.
Nevertheless, the music remains well-performed and tight, the dedication of the musicians evident on their sleeves as they slam through high-octane hits like “Let Us Slay” and “Metal Metal Land.” The spectacle of GWAR, always the band’s calling card and most important element, remain gleefully intact. From a technical and showmanship standpoint, GWAR is as strong as ever. Even in the absence of Dave Brockie, GWAR’s show retains that sense of seeing an old friend for long time fans. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
That said, the set was as touching a tribute to Oderus as GWAR could muster, the kind of performance that Brockie would have approved of. Hell, the Cuttlefish of Cthulu made an appearance in the time machine. The band broke character precisely once, when at the end Bishop, during the band’s cover of “People Who Died” yelled into the microphone, in an attempt to speak into the beyond, “Dave Brockie, I miss you!” For the first time in all the years I’ve seen them, GWAR did not perform “Sick of You” and one can only wonder if the song has been summarily retired.
Several facts about GWAR are irrefutable. First, there has been far too much grief at the Slave Pit in recent years, Oderus’ death seemingly moments after the wound of Cory Smoot’s passing had healed. This band could use a break and is due to put some pain in the past. The other undeniable truth is that GWAR can still entertain with confidence and ability, even if the perfectly smooth edges have been made a little jagged. GWAR perseveres however, and as much as fans wanted to see what the tribute to Oderus would look like, the next tour, when the band will start its next chapter, is equally if not more important.