Review: Gwar's shlock-rock theatrics make for a bloody fun show at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
Let the metalheadss and gear nerds argue Gwar’s merits as a heavy metal band. I am neither, and I’m here to ask: For an outsider, is a Gwar concert fun?
Because let’s be honest: We’ve all thought about going at one time or another. I’d wager more of your friends than you’d probably guess have already seen them live at least once.
It’s certainly tempting. Gwar is the pinnacle of theatrical, cartoonish schlock-rock – it’s metal so silly that you don’t have to be a metalhead to enjoy it. You can just let go of your pretension and rock the eff out like your alien overlords aren’t watching.
Gwar’s bawdy, bloody concert at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa Tuesday night delivered exactly that goofy sense of abandon – and yet there were also moments of genuine rock ‘n’ roll, where you could actually feel a bit of what’s deep down inside those hulking, growling beasts.
To be sure, a Gwar show is not meant to be taken too seriously. Unlike openers Whitechapel – whose pummeling set of double-bass-drum deathcore was as intense as intense gets (“How much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black.”) – Gwar was simply play-acting on stage, for their own amusement as much as the crowd’s.
When he wasn’t chastising the “Eye-bor City” (as he called it) crowd, engaging frontman Oderus Urungus bellowed through a set that mixed classic metal songs with heavily stage-propped skits that usually resulted in the crowd being doused with fake blood. The plot had something to do with a showdown between the aliens of Gwar and another being called “Mr. Perfect,” and while the story didn’t matter much in the end, there was never a moment when the elaborate costumes weren’t interesting to look at.
Can Gwar really rock? Of course, and when they want to, they can even do it with music alone. They dedicated the song Metal Metal Land to late guitarist Cory Smoot, a.k.a. Flattus Maximus. “He watches down from the stars, so you guys beat the s--- out of each other, because he enjoys it,” Urungus said. And a few other songs were performed as straight-ahead rockers, with few theatrics, such as Jack the World, a straight-ahead thrasher; a mightily metallic medley of Let Us Slay and Torture; and blues-metal grinder Happy Deathday. In these moments, Gwar was just five dudes in codpieces and teeny-tiny britches, trying to rock your socks off.
Moments of pure heavy metal were rare, though. And it should be noted that it’d be tough to call Gwar a shock-rock act nowadays, either, because there’s nothing actually shocking about the content of Gwar’s act. Well, okay, a feminist might have something to say about the many blood-spouting prop breasts on a couple of tortured characters, but politically, in the 21st century, calling a character dressed as the Pope a “fascist f---“ simply isn’t as provocative as it used to be. Gwar did cut off that Pope’s head, much as they dismembered characters dressed as Queen Elizabeth and a ridiculously fake-looking Justin Bieber, but c’mon, those are yesterday’s targets. Doesn’t Gwar know Dutchess Kate and Austin Mahone are where it’s at in 2013?
The set came to a laughably stage-acted but no less compelling climax when Urungus took on a 15-foot Mr. Perfect, lopping open his chest and stabbing him with a comically oversized broadsword. The hammy theatrics are part of the appeal of a Gwar show – it’s also why people love classic monster movies, Rocky Horror shadowcasts and Sharknado – but you do start to daydream about a world in which some eccentric billionaire decides to hire Julie Taymor to choreograph a Gwar show. (Or, better yet, have Guillermo del Toro direct a movie!)
During the encore, Gwar played their recent semi-viral cover of Billy Ocean’s Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car – barely sung by Urungus, but shredded to pieces by guitarist Pustulus Maximus. The song shifted into another cover, The Who’s epic Baba O’Riley.
It’s a fantastic song to close any set. Last fall I saw Pearl Jam play it near the end of a second encore. It’s Pearl Jam, one of the best live bands in the world, so it of course it sounded great.
But I’d argue that Gwar sounded like they were having more fun. Of course they were! Devil horns were pumping in the ink-dyed pit as Pustulus grinded away on his battle axe, with a couple of alien gimps shooting fake blood at a crowd that lapped it all up.
As the singer for early openers Iron Reagan put it earlier in the night, “If you’re f---ing lucky, you get to f---ing open for Gwar, and have the time of your f---ing life.”
True. If you think that’s not fun, why are you still here on Gwar’s planet?
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*