by Chris McNamara
Photos by: Chris McNamara
The band takes the stage at 10:30 p.m. and immediately begins showering the audience with blood. The audience, in turn, immediately begins cheering and reveling in the bloodbath. But few in the crimsoned crowd here at Chicago’s House of Blues fully appreciate the work that goes into Gwar show. Bloodbaths don’t just host themselves.
With most bands, prep means setting up the instruments and amps, checking levels and lights. Gwar’s crew must do all that in addition to prepping 200 gallons of blood (actually water treated with special non-staining dyes). They must hook up the 250-pound compressor that will pump that fluid through some 200 feet of hoses. And they must unpack and apply the complicated costumes that will be theatrically chopped apart, producing those waves of faux plasma that have defined this band’s live performances for the past 25 years.
It ain’t easy being Gwar. And it’s hell for their crew.
Each tour features new characters, props and special effects. Band members and crew come up with a theme—usually incorporating media personalities, politicians and recent events—and create a loose plot using those elements.
Bob Goran, longtime member of the crew who portrays one of the Gwar’s slaves onstage, recalls the time he and peers built a prop called The Butt Cannon, only to find that it was too large to exit the doors of the warehouse so had to be disassembled. When The Butt Cannon 2.0 finally made its debut, it dribbled out feces (actually oatmeal) rather than launching it, forcing victims to position themselves under the droppings.
The preparation process for a Gwar show takes four hours from unloading the trucks to taking the stage. The team, including band, crew and drivers, is 16 people.
Sometimes, venues limit what the band can do. Smaller stages prohibit the use of the giant robot. “We fit as much as we can,” says crewmember Matt McGuire, who like Gorman seems far too normal to develop these bizarre props and then, dressed only in a loincloth and mask, help operate them during the bloody shows.
Everybody has a different dream for the ultimate Gwar show. McGuire would love to see the band fly to the stage on wires. Pyrotechnics used to be a regular part of the show, but as the band garnered more attention (and the Whitesnake tragedy focused more attention on stage fires) the flames were snuffed.
When asked about his dream prop, band founder Dave Brockie quickly replies that it would be a horse. “I’d love to chop the head off a horse. Right at the base of the neck. Whap!”
“A real horse?” this reporter inquires.
“No. I love horses.”
Front & Center & Bloody
Brockie, who founded the band plays front man Oderus Urungus, seems simultaneously weary and thrilled when prepping for a gig, even after a quarter of a century. “It’s all pretty gross,” he says, hoisting out of a shipping crate his costume that is still wet from the previous performance. “[The costumes] are cold when you put them on, but it helps you snap into the mindset of Gwar. We embrace the filthiness.”
The suits weigh as much as 50 pounds. They gain ten more pounds in water weight during the bloody shows. The chest plate and belt that Beefcake The Mighty wear obscure his vision to the point that he cannot see his hands strumming his bass. The 15-pound skull-embossed kilt doesn’t help much, nor does his massive helmet. “An industrial showgirl hat,” labels its wearer, Corey Orr.
It doesn’t look like much, but Don Drakulich’s costume could be the most uncomfortable. As band manager Sleazy P. Martini, his leisure suit is crafted from upholstery used for boat seats. It’s thick. It’s hot. It doesn’t breath. And when you factor in the pompadour headpiece he wears—counterbalanced by a five-pound weight hidden below his collar—it’s no walk in the park. (No wonder he recently took a decade-long hiatus from the band.)
So why do it all after a quarter of a century? “The object when we started out was to create art that we could make a living off of,” says Brockie between pleas with a crewmember to locate a pot of coffee. “It’s a tragedy that we haven’t gotten rich yet, but that was never the goal. We’re persistent in our vision—commenting on society. That’s what artists are supposed to do. And this is a great time to be an artist.”
Once in costume, the band members are amped up. They are jittery—ready to rock. Their voices suddenly become booming. They stop speaking like normal guys and slide into their bombastic characters. Brockie—having transformed himself into Oderus—uses a water bottle to douse the carp-like phallus that hangs between his legs.
Reporter: “What does ‘suckadickalickalog’ mean?”
Oderus: “Exactly what you think it fucking means!”
Reporter: “Could humans perform the show that you guys put on each night?”
Oderus: “Humans can barely stand through the show!”
As the band members lumber out of the green room towards the elevator that will take them down to the stage, Beefcake The Mighty is in character, just like his band mates. But he’s still concerned about his human alter ego’s personal belongings.
“Don’t take our shit!” he hollers as the door closes.
© 2009 Crypt Magazine. All Rights Reserved.