20 years ago I saw GWAR for the first time in Edmonton Alberta… Canada in case you were wondering. At the time I hung out with a biker dude who made a lotta cash and insisted on paying for EVERYTHING for his friends. The order at the bar always started out something like this: “Hi there, bring us 5 pitchers of beer and an order of nachos. We’re just gonna slip outside n smoke a joint and we’ll be right back in, to get the party started.” There were usually 2 or 3 of us when the order was placed. A dozen or more by the time they had to pour us outta there.
Well this night back in 1990 was no different. My buddy was friends with this promoter who’s first show consisted of a band that I’d just bought their debut full length tape, “Scumdogs of the Universe” based strongly on their look and the latest video floating around the airwaves for “Sick of You”. I was quite surprised when my friend asked me if I wanted to go see GWAR, adding that I was the only fucker he knew that was into that shit. He told me he knew the promoter and that if I brought my camera, the guy would really appreciate some nice photos seeing as it was his first show he put on.
Of course I jumped at the chance but reluctantly brought my camera as the first show I’d ever shot, Sacrifice, a metal band outta Toronto, was a disaster.
The order at the table was an absolutely ridiculous amount of booze, complete with shots and several “trips outside”. By the time GWAR hit the stage I couldn’t even stand, let alone operate a camera. But I pressed on. No amount of booze or other mind altering substances will hold this guy away from a lit stage fulla rock n roll. The pics really sucked. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I was literally tripping and falling all over the place trying to hold the camera steady.
For those of you who don’t know, GWAR is like Kiss on steroids. They wear giant costumes, face paint and bring out crazy props to chop up, behead and kick the shit out of. One part of their show which pulls all kinds of people to front row, yet totally repels others, is the blood. Fake blood, but blood nonetheless. These guys dump gallon upon gallon of blood all over their audience and the kids just eat it up. The signs on the outside of the venue warn you, “GWAR will be spraying the audience with liquid projectiles. It is non-toxic and water soluble.” Nice warning. Why not just say, “Anyone within 40 ft of the stage is gonna get drenched in blood. Don’t worry, it washes out.”
People actually show up dressed in all white t-shirts etc just to be there in the front row and get drenched by their heroes. It’s like wearing your badge of honour when you leave a GWAR show and people can see that you were definitely in the front line of fire. Back in the day, they bragged about dumping 90 gallons of blood on an audience. Well back then their show was only an hour long and they didn’t have the technology they do today to dump 10 times that in half the time.
As photographers, we were warned: 1st song will be dry. 2nd and 3rd song, they’re gonna start with the blood. Well song two they roll out this giant blood squirting, futuristic, tripod mounted laser cannon and start up the festivities by rocketing an arch of blood 40 feet in the air over the crowd and directly hammering the front rows with a full out laser spray of blood. It was hilarious. Photographers diving for cover and kids in the front row getting drenched and just loving it. All the photographers ended up piled into one corner of stage right where we were told it would be “safer”.
After watching this laser cannon do it’s job for a minute, I figured, to hell with this, I’m gonna go face that fucker straight on. When the blood laser operator wasn’t looking, I walked out in front, held my camera up and snapped a pic of him and his toy. Once he noticed me, he started spraying in my direction but I noticed he could only tip the thing so far forward. I ducked down in the photo pit right up against the stage and the blood fired straight over my head. I’d foiled his evil plan to drench the photographer!! So I’d wait til the moment was right and pop up, snap another shot and deek down to safety.
Well that took care of song 2. But song 3 had something in store that none of us could get away from. Some little robot guy came out and they stabbed him a few times gushing blood out of all the holes in all different directions. I had to get a shot of it but this guy was spraying blood 20 feet in all different directions and hiding under the stage wouldn’t have worked as I watched the blood spraying the security guys. I did get one great shot though. Walked up and snapped him just as he was turning towards me. I turned around and sheltered my camera from the inevitable. I was drenched all down the back of my coat and blue jeans as well as a big dripping of blood running down the side of my face. Looked like I’d just earned my red wings!
GWAR was always one of those bands who had a cult-like following but could never really break into the upper echelons of rock n roll success as they were hard to take seriously. But that was the beauty of it. They never expected to be taken seriously. Sure they flirted with changing their sound and trying the whole “music thing” but their real success was wrapped up in the live show which they perfected and returned to the heavy metal/hardcore approach to bring them into their 25th year running. That being said, they found themselves in the opening slot for Lamb of God, a band who gave kudos to GWAR for having been one of the first bands to take them on the road.
Their show is so tongue in cheek and sarcastic that you’ve got to laugh at the whole thing or you’ll end up leaving disgusted, pissed off and ready to form another version of the PMRC who had fun targeting GWAR back in the day. Some of the things these guys did on stage (and the GWAR Women) were nothing short of disgusting. But it was all done in the shock value aspect of it all like the kid who acts out in class just to get attention. In a world where “it’s all been done before” I can promise you, some of those things have ONLY been done by GWAR and that’s what really made them stand out as an original shock rock/hardcore/heavy metal act that’s enjoyed 25 years of enough success to keep them from having to get real jobs. Well done guys!!
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