Benefit displays softer side of intergalactic barbarians

Gwar performance at punk benefit for food bank lifts veil of band’s mythos
Review and photos by Tom Beedham

Around quarter after 10 in the evening on Jul. 14, a van rolled into Riverside Park, dispersing a horde of concertgoers to the left of the open-air concert shell. The crowd knew it was coming. They’d gathered around the stage half an hour before in hopes of catching a good view of a rare performance from “Rawg,” an unmasked incarnation of the satirical shock rock ensemble Gwar. Informed by show promoters that the group’s lead singer Dave Brockie (perhaps better known to fans as Oderus Urungus – the intergalactic long sword-wielding barbarian character that Brockie has suited up as at regular Gwar concerts since the group’s 1984 premiere) was en route from the Toronto airport, fans were told that getting Brockie onstage as fast as possible would require some cooperation.

Spilling out of the van with a growler of beer in hand, Brockie was hailed with cheers and screams upon arrival. After some brief remarks about missing a flight out of San Diego and waking up in a puddle of his own vomit – with guitarist Mike Derks (AKA Balsac the Jaws of Death), bassist Jamison Land (AKA Beefcake the Mighty) and drummer Brad Roberts (AKA Jizmak Da Gusha) already waiting on stage – the band dove into their set.

Later in the evening, Brockie addressed the novelty of the performance. Claiming that his Oderus Urungus costume was lost somewhere between the San Diego and Toronto airports, he thanked the audience for coming to see Gwar without its usual frills.

“This is something not many people get to see. It’s also something not many people want to see,” the singer quipped. Aside from the costumes, the band’s regular concerts are elaborate productions featuring intricate stage decorations, human “slave” stage extras, and onstage theatrics that include simulated decapitations and spraying audiences with fake blood.

All joking was set aside, however, when Brockie formally introduced the audience to Gwar in its more (un)familiar, human form; the singer was forced to speak to a vacancy in the lineup.

From as far back as 1987, although it has seen many members come and go, Gwar has steadily operated (as steadily as a group of space thugs that sometimes claims to be addicted to crack cocaine ¬– including members that boast smoking whole planets composed entirely of marijuana – can operate) as a five-piece band. That changed on Nov. 3, 2011 when guitarist Cory Smoot was found without vital signs by his fellow band members, just hours after performing a gig in Minneapolis, Minn.

Following an autopsy over a month later, Gwar issued an official statement that included words from Coroner William Masselo, MD claiming Smoot “died from a coronary artery thrombosis brought about by his pre-existing coronary artery disease.”

Following the tragedy, the band retired Smoot’s character Flattus Maximus, while official Gwar lore updated itself to claim that Flattus stole Gwar’s spaceship to return to his home planet, ‘Planet Home’.

But at Riverside Park, Brockie left the myth of the band behind to pay respect for his friend and bandmate. Adopting an earnest tone of solemnity, the singer spoke of how Smoot’s passing was a reminder of the fragility of life, and in a moment of silence looked to a star-riddled sky with a concentrated stare and a raised finger pointing towards infinity before his band cued up another song – a notably respectful motion from a group that has explained the exits of past band members with stories of characters mistakenly drinking bleach thinking it was liquid crack cocaine.

It was not the only tender display of emotions witnessed during the band’s set. Brockie also took time to address his regrets for Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe, who was arrested in Prague on manslaughter charges on Jun. 27.

Blythe was arrested over allegations that he shoved a 19-year-old fan off a stage at a show at Prague’s Abaton club in 2010. It is alleged that Blythe’s actions resulted in the fan falling into a coma and eventually dying 14 days after the fall caused a brain hemorrhage. Despite having posted a $200,000 bail on Jul. 3, Blythe has been ordered to remain in the Czech Republic, where he has remained until the time of this publication.

Gwar spent 2009 touring the United States extensively with Blythe and his band, and Brockie has also issued sizable blog posts about his friend’s situation.

Despite the logistical nightmare of having audience members on stage that Brockie’s vocalized regrets called attention to, the band closed its set with a rendition of “So Sick” that saw fans charge onto the stage to share the mic with Brockie, and the singer was all smiles.

Once everyone had settled down, show promoters came onstage to announce the winner of a special autographed copy of Gwar’s 1988 debut Hell-O!, which was raffled off to raise funds for the Smoot Family Fund – a fundraiser to help Cory Smoot’s family manage its loss. It was a closing note that matched the charitable nature of the event itself: the special dressed-down performance was received as part of the 519 Punk Reunion – a day-long punk festival in support of the Guelph Food Bank.

[See below for links to photosets of other performers at the 519 Punk Reunion]

The 519 Punk Reunion saw hundreds of fans turn out throughout the day for performances from veteran Hamilton punk act Teenage Head, The Asexuals, Take Drugs, The Beat-Downs, King and Academy, Bigfoot, Nate Coles, and local acts like The Nasties, Acme, Joy Division cover band The Dead Souls.

Originally published by The Ontarion on Jul 19, 2012. Check out The Ontarion for photosets from the rest of the 519 Punk Reunion:

Teenage Head
The Asexuals
Take Drugs
The Nasties
Acme
The Dead Souls
The Beat-Downs
King and Academy
Bigfoot

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