GWAR with Cryptopsy and Battlecross
Calgary, Alberta, October 13th, 2015)
Review by JP
Photos by Jeff Bartelli
It was a pleasant autumn night for a Metal concert in Calgary. Arriving early-ish wanting to see Battlecross I was mildly disappointed but not surprised to see a low turnout. More on this later.
Battlecross hit the huge stage right on time with energy and enthusiasm for a couple of hundred people who were milling around the beer garden and merch booths. They were sort of at less than full capacity as the guitarist was not on the tour and neither was the drummer but the men who stood in did a good job. I just wish the singer had introduced them, as the Battlecross website and Facebook had no updates that I could find. They ripped through their 30 minute set and vocalist ‘Gumby’ did a good job mixing entertainment, jokes, energy and crowd engagement.
I was especially impressed by bassist, Don Salter who did a few little solos and some good slap bass, adding a good dimension to the raging thrash/power tunes.
I feel they were a bit better than when I saw them with In Flames a few years back. Now four albums deep they have what it takes to entertain the troops.
After a quick and seamless transition we got into one of Canada’s biggest and best Death Metal acts, Cryptopsy. It was a weird bill for sure but Cryptopsy (now technically an indie band) brought the heaviness and brutality to the proceedings.
I had seen Cryptopsy at least half a dozen times over the years and enjoyed the 30 minute set but they were just too heavy for the majority of the causal Gwar fans. We got a treat with a new unreleased track form the forthcoming (at time of writing) Cryptopsy EP, THE BOOK OF SUFFERING TOME I, Which sounded as good as anything they have done. Watching Flo on the drums is amazing, proving why he is one of the best in the world.
It is always a bit odd watching a brutal,underground death Metal band on a huge stage, it’s not that they look lost or put of place, but just after seeing them in a big clean hall in front of so many young kids, instead of a dive-bar seemed odd. They still killed it.
Earlier, I commented about attendance, and I believe GWAR is a victim of something called ‘The Law Of Diminishing Returns’ This sounds like something an economist would say, a phrase not often found in a Metal concert review but allow me to explain. Back in 1989, GWAR visited Calgary for the first time on the Hello! Tour and played a mid-sized bar. No many really knew who they were but due to the novelty of GWAR at the time but the old rock dogs around town, still to this day, talk about that first bloody GWAR show at the Westward Club. Flash-forward to 2007. GWAR returns to Calgary after an 18-year absence and play the 2500 capacity MacEwan Hall on the Beyond Hell tour. The place is utterly packed. It is a raging success, a wild and insane show and the band has come back to the same venue on every subsequent tour.
Flash-forward again to 2015. The band has been to Calgary now five or six times in nine years and every-time, the crowd gets a little bit smaller. There are two types of GWAR fans. I’d suggest the vast majority of the crowd are the causal and the curious. Nothing wrong with that! The rest are the die-hards who actually buy the albums and know the songs, and are there for more than just seeing giant rubber penises, getting sprayed by red goo while singing along to ‘Sick Of You’.
Hence the law of diminishing returns. Once the pool of curious and casual fans has seen the band (in the same venue once or twice) they tend to drift away because the novelty is gone. Sadly, the attendance was ‘only’ about 500 for GWAR. Other factors contributed as well primarily and most obviously the death of Dave Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus). The recent passing of Cory Smoot did not help matters either. Did you know that GWAR now has no original members? Replacement singer, Vulvatron came and went as the vocalist so now the fans have to adapt to a new singer and character ‘Blothar’, who is actually played by Mike Bishop, an old member of GWAR who used to play Beefcake The Mighty’ for many years.
All this change may confuse people, however GWAR used this to their advantage and at risk of over-analyzing a crazy Metal show, I’ll explain how and why.
GWAR, some have said, is on the ropes and the band realized that peple were talking smack about them (mostly on-line) and actually incorporated that sentiment into their stage show and set-list with amazing results. We got a leaner, meaner, faster more stripped down GWAR than we have in a long time. There was still the blood and comedy, but it took a back burner. After the intro music (Warpigs by Black Sabbath oddly enough) and duruing the hilarious opening sequence, there is an opening monologue by unseen narrator talking about GWAR and how that after 30 years they have conquered adversity by changing styles and adapting to modern times. Yikes! Then two characters came out, sort of goth types, and played a lame techno version of ‘Sick Of You’ on a big fake key-tar!
Then one by one the real GWAR, (Blothar, Pustulus, Beefcake, Balsac and Jizmak) then came out on stage and surrounded the interloper/posers and ‘dispatched’ them post-haste with their mighty tools of war. Then they ripped into a crushing version of the first true song, ‘Crush, Kill Destroy’.
Next Sleazy P. Martini, makes a video only appearance (his only appearance during the show) and tells GWAR to get their shit together or he is going to take away their crack. Naturally upset, GWAR decides to learn about the internet and what people are saying about them. They read some fake (?) (or maybe not so fake) internet troll comments about how ‘GWAR has lost their edge’, or ‘They should retire!’ etc. So, aided by a slave from the slave-pit and a huge tablet they run through various songs, songs about horrible things you can find on the internet, sex, baby-porn, footage of terrorists killing people and played a corresponding song, ‘Black And Huge’, ‘Baby-Raper’, ‘You Can’t Kill Terror’ etc.
To describe the whole show would be a 5000-word essay but all the usual gore and body fluids and sacrificial kills were present with people like a Fox News reporter, a middle-eastern terrorist, Kayne West (apparently he is some rap guy?) and Hillary Clinton. Most amusingly they killed a giant internet troll, a misshapen and grotesque beast like no other.
As I said this was a lean, mean stripped-down GWAR. The set-list was surprisingly heavy, which I liked. I prefer fast-thrash GWAR better than punky-jokey, political GWAR. They blasted out heavy tunes like to show the people (internet trolls and naysayers alike) that GWAR still means business, they are Metal, and they can still kill it. We got destroyed by crushing cuts like ‘ Bloodbath’, ‘Hail Genocide’, ‘Let Us Slay’ and the aforementioned opener, ‘Crush Kill, Destroy’. I feel the addition of Pustulus Maximus was a good move as he is a way better, more ‘Metal’ and more shred-oriented guitarist than Flattus Maximus was.
I’ve seen GWAR three times now and this is the fastest heaviest they have ever been. The comedy was there but much less than usual. As I mentioned there was no live appearance by Sleazy or some of the other classic side-characters and all the comedy songs about penguins, dinosaurs and Ronald Regan were dumped from the set. Gwar killed. Revitalized, this live show easily proved that there is still lots of bite left in the stinky old war dogs yet. Catch GWAR on this tour, you won’t be disappointed.
Note: At the 30th Anniversary show, I bought the GWAR book. Check out my review of this book in out Library Of Loudness section.