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[Gig Review] GWAR @ Mr. Small's, Pittsburgh - October 2017


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I went to my first concert in quite a few years last night.  I used to go to gigs every week, to the point where there was no real novelty to it even after such a long break, but it was still a fun experience.

It started out with a slight hiccup.  Mr. Small's, Pittsburgh's primary venue for most bands worth seeing, had made some major renovations since last I was there, but their process for letting people in seemed to be firmly rooted in the stone age.  Apparently they don't allow people to print tickets online, and unless you went there in person to buy a physical one prior to the gig, you had to go through the same line as everyone else.  I never buy tickets, but it slowed things down tremendously because there was literally a guy sitting there with 50 sheets of paper hand scratching names off of the list as they showed up.  I arrived an hour after the door opened and ended up waiting outside in the pouring rain for the better part of an hour.  I'm guessing the floor for the first supporting act was almost entirely empty.  Sucks to be them, eh.

But I got in just in time to see the second band kick off.  I had never heard of Doyle, but they were instantly recognizable as one of the members of the Misfits.  The eponymous frontman had an overwhelming stage presence.  You don't often run into a guy who looks like he's about 7 feet tall and can bench press a car wearing face paint with his hair spiked a mile into the sky.  I think I spent the first two tracks just staring at him thinking "are you even human?", and from what I read of the band afterwards that was quite the point.  So A+ on conveying their intended image.  The music was mediocre at best, and very poorly delivered.  They were one of those bands that think they have to turn the volume up to 11 to be edgy (or else their set-up crew did a terrible job) and they were so unpleasantly loud that it was impossible to even attempt to enjoy their music.  Considering they were going for a horror punk presentation in the first place (the singer rarely screamed and had a hint of blues to his style), they would have been intensely better served to tone it down a notch.

The second band was Ghoul, who apparently GWAR have been touring with for a while, and they suited the role of an opening band well.  Probably more trash metal than anything else, their music was alright (and the volume was refreshingly normal after the last set).  Nothing I would purchase, but you could definitely get into it in a live setting.  They complimented this with a sort of GWAR-lite stage display.  The members were all wearing masks.  They had really elaborate (possibly more elaborate than GWAR) costume designs for actors who played out the band's story around them.  It got a little too GWAR to feel unique at times; they did the whole fake blood spray on the audience thing and I couldn't help but find it unnecessary.  I couldn't quite wrap my head around whether they were GWAR's opening band or a unique entity with their own unique image, but there was plenty enough of the latter to enjoy it as more than as a watered down rehash of someone else's gimmick.  I wouldn't seek them out if they toured on their own, but they're more than welcome to keep on opening for GWAR.

And then there was GWAR.  The band has gone through some massive changes since last I saw them--changes that would leave almost any other band on the planet in permanent retirement.  The lead singer and lead guitarist had both died.  Moreover, it had been the uniquely gifted pairing of Cory Smoot and Dave Brockie that propelled the band from an amazing stage show to something I would routinely blast from my car stereo just because they sounded so good.  Brockie had been a part of the band since its formation in the early 80s, and for all the staff that go into producing a GWAR show both on stage and behind it, he really was the band in a sense.  He was perhaps the best actor that rock music has ever known.

I mean here you have a bunch of guys wearing ridiculous oversized costumes, swinging swords and axes around at synthetic monsters and chopping off their heads to splatter the audience in slime while championing every traditionally offensive motif on the planet.  That's easy to rub off as just a bunch of meat heads ramming shock value down your throat.  Brockie glued it all together by being the character he portrayed.  Oderus Urungus was essentially a reject from a ruthlessly brutal extraterrestrial race who got banished to earth for screwing everything up, and by his lore's standard, he's a bit of a softy.  A lot of the comedy/social commentary was centered around his character's inability to understand human compassion, mistaking it for cowardice and incompetence.  Throughout his mission to exterminate the human race, Oderus assumes a sort of fatherly duty to teach humanity how to more effectively slaughter and enslave each other.  He reflects fondly on those who are showing improvement towards this end.  (He has a soft spot for the police, for example, because they beat and murder people and get away with it.  He generously shows them how to do it better by impaling one on a stake.)  In general he was just a very well defined character who reflected his persona through his lyrics, stage performance, and unique vocal range.

Anyone else pretending to light a baby on fire runs the risk of just being offensive for no good reason.

That's sort of my problem with his replacement, Blothar.  I never got the feeling that Michael Bishop found his place in the band yet.  His character just kind of stands there singing in a typical metal vocal style.  There was definitely a lot of context to it, but the presentation needed some work.  Bishop's vocals are fairly monotonous and tend to blend into the surrounding distortion.  You can't really tell what he's saying most of the time, where Brockie's lines were crystal clear and he employed an incredibly broad range of sounds to convey his character's mental state.  I think Bishop needs to work a bit yet on owning his role in the band's mythos.  (Some of the sexual undertones to his character frankly just missed the mark and felt really awkward.)  I don't think it was just the inescapable absence of Brockie that gave me this vibe; Matt Maguire took the mic as Sawborg Destructo for a song and it felt more like good old GWAR again.  It took Brockie himself a while to really perfect his act, so I wasn't expecting a miracle out of Bishop, but I do hope that this was a work in progress and not the long-term end product.

That's the selfish, dehumanized way of looking at it.  There's a much more positive side, too.  Dave Brockie is dead and I still got to see GWAR live.  A lot of these guys (including the stage hands) have been touring together for 30 years and are as good as family to each other.  The fact that they were able to keep the train rolling is incredible, and there was a great deal of reverence in their new material to their fallen friend.  The human beings behind the masks are more at the forefront, and I think that's important right now.  Everyone who loves this band lost something, and it was really unique to get to share that with the artists themselves.  Any other act wouldn't still exist to offer the experience.

The set-list was highly tailored to Bishop; they played all but one song off of their new album, and most of the older tracks reached all the way back to his 80s and 90s stint as their bassist.  That was probably wise, in that it provided him with the platform to become his new character rather than an imitation of Oderus.  It was also a bit disappointing, as I think their previous five albums were by far their best and they only played three songs from the lot of them.  I would be curious to see a recording of their final gig on this tour.  Mine was only their third stop.  Bishop isn't brand new to the band as Blothar--he's been in the role for over two years now--but this is the first tour in which he has his own post-Brockie material to draw from, and that has to make it a lot easier to define his on-stage character.

On the whole, I spent most of this concert waiting to see GWAR feel like GWAR instead of just getting into the moment.  A lot of that was inevitable; it's the first time I've seen them without Brockie.  I think it's going to take some time for them to redefine themselves, and it's too soon to say whether the new face of GWAR won't become just as entertaining as the old in its own way.  But it isn't there yet.  It was a fun show definitely, and I'm already looking forward to catching them again in 2018.  I (and perhaps the band too) am just not yet to a point where I can watch GWAR as GWAR and not as its members diligently carrying on without Dave.

Edited by Shad_
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Oh, I ran into Brad Roberts outside while I was waiting to get in.  I think I'm the only person who recognized him without his mask, because no one said anything.  I didn't bother him, but I think he caught me staring at him for a bit.  haha

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I have heard of Gwar and I like them lol


I'd love to hear some Doyle material now XD

I'm very curious to hear how bad they are :tongue:


Now it's not easy for a band to recover from such a loss... but even when a band only needs to get a replacement, it seems to me that they tend to replace the lost member by someone quite 'flat' that doesn't fit the band style as well as the previous one.

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Doyle's studio albums might be entirely decent for all I know.  What I could distinguish of it seemed like the generic sort of thing that a whole lot of bands play: nothing wrong with it, just nothing special either.  The main problem was they had the amps cranked up so ridiculously loud that my ears could barely distinguish any of it.


As for GWAR, there will ever only be one Dave Brockie in this world, but yeah, his replacement felt pretty bland on first encounter.  I'm hoping he'll grow into the role more over time; there's a heavy dose of theater to it that most live bands don't have to deal with.

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