Concert Review - GWAR, Whitechapel

After so many years of constant tours, going to a GWAR show is now like visiting an old friend. There will be some new stories to be sure, but you know when you arrive, it’s going to be a jovial retelling of some of the same old classics.

The gathered crowd was first greeted with Band of Orcs, a sort of GWAR-lite, but with much more emphasis on death metal. Clad in armor and the masks of their namesake, the band plays the part of an orcish band preparing the horde for war. It’s a fairly fresh gimmick and it works both because the sell job is complete and thorough, and because the band’s affect is appropriately tongue-in-cheek. While much of their set devolves into an undecipherable death metal slurry, that in and of itself works with the stage show in an abstract way. Unhindered, the band chugs through their catalogue, being congratulated by the audience with enthusiastic applause. Add in the fact that one of their guitar players’ masks looks a little like Abe Vigoda, and you have an experience that is genuinely enjoyable, if perhaps lacking in critical acclaim.

It’s tough to know exactly what to say about Iron Reagan because it’s not exactly clear what was going on. A self-proclaimed ‘crossover thrash’ band (does that mean anything to anyone?) Iron Reagan blitzes the audience with a set that’s roughly thirty-nine songs long. What keeps them on time is that each song, with a few exceptions, is about thirty-nine seconds, or seemed it, anyway. The band has a certain self-deprecation woven into their stage show, but it’s hard to tell if the joke is on Iron Reagan, or on us for thinking it’s on Iron Reagan. Just typing that makes me think I’m overthinking the point. Nevertheless, there were a couple bright spots, as the band rocked hard and fast with “Eat, Shit and Live” and “Snake Chopper.” Even with that, the crowd seemed unsure about their reaction when Iron Reagan’s set was over.

Sheer, unbridled power. That’s the secret ingredient to Whitechapel’s live performance and it’s a science they’ve come to command well in the last few years. A calculated combination of soft lighting and generated smoke give the band the impression of emerging from the haze and the sound was, in the parlance of our times, turned to eleven. Their set, beginning with “Make it Bleed” was a display of barely controlled fury, as rage and metal washed over the gathered throng. The GWAR crowd, often fickle in their support of non-GWAR bands, moshed and slammed along with the Tennessee metallers through an array of songs, including an especially energetic “Vicer Exciser.” Whitechapel’s show lacks polish and flair, but makes up the difference in crowd-pleasing, over-powering force. I am reminded ever so faintly of Fear Factory in their heyday, albeit without the industrial leanings.

For all that’s been said about GWAR’s over-the-top antics and wild stage show, what too often gets overlooked is how absolutely professional the members of GWAR must be. For almost thirty years, GWAR has toured the country essentially as a travelling musical that focuses on delivering what the crowd wants to see – yes, a set soaked in plastic entrails and watery ‘blood,’ but at its base, a satisfying performance. As ever for this tour, GWAR delivers on that promise.

The storyline this time out centers around newly-minted GWAR villain Mr. Perfect (not Curt Hennig,) as he attempts to gain eternal life by killing GWAR. Along the way, Mr. Perfect looses a menagerie of creatures on the band (accompanied naturally by their buddy Bonesnapper) and the band achieves consistent victory through thoroughly gory and crowd-pleasing means. Of note to GWAR veterans, there are fewer celebrity deaths along the way, save for a relatively convincing Justin Bieber mannequin strapped to the ubiquitous torture rack. Finally, Mr. Perfect goes down in a heap and GWAR saves the universe, or at least themselves, again. (If you want to call that a spoiler alert, go ahead, but did you really think GWAR would lose at a GWAR show?)

Musically, there’s some emphasis on new record “Battle Maximus” through selections like the title track and “Madness at the Core of Time.” This serves to highlight the talent of axman Pustulus Maximus and man, can be bring it. His riffs are sharp and quick, his solos accented with flair and melody, especially as the band rocks through the newest selections. As GWAR continues to mourn the fallen Flattus Maximus (Cory Smoot,) Pustulus (Brett Purgason) serves as a worthy successor.

Of course, in line with keeping the crowd happy, there is the usual spate of well-executed GWAR classics new and old. A GWAR show in 2013 still wouldn’t feel complete without the sloppy joy of “Metal Metal Land” or “Let Us Slay.” “Bring Back the Bomb” and the excellent “Happy Death-Day” led to the usual crowd sing-along, as did the everlasting hallmark of GWAR’s encore “Sick of You.” One big surprise was the resurrection of (personal) favorite “Jack the World” from 1994’s “This Toilet Earth,” which GWAR dusted off and made sound as new and contemporary as any of their other pieces.

Humor intact and fans sated, GWAR threw one more curve ball, adding to the recent chapter of GWAR as a cover band – a mix and match ensemble of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” the Who’s timeless ”Baba O’Riley.” What proves GWAR’s professionalism is their ability to capably and hilariously combine disparate songs like these. More, please.

In short, GWAR owned the night. Much as they will continue to for as long as they choose to.

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