I saw GWAR and Battlecross in the worst city on Earth
Las Vegas is a festering wound in the desert.
Nothing good has ever happened here and nothing ever will. After Havana fell through, Las Vegas was constructed as a haven for boozing and gambling by opportunist gangsters for the rubes of America. Foolish people travel across the world to come here. With dreams of fortune and glamour, you’re soon to be face-to-face with the reality of dropped mortgage payments and Irish tourists in flip-flops vomiting on their own feet. If you want drugs, gambling, prostitutes, or a wide selection of the worst people in the world, you can find them here easily.
Every time I leave, I’m sure I will never come back; that the desert will finally, mercifully swallow this city and leave no trace of the human folly that built it in the first place. The one good thing I can say about Las Vegas is that convenient restroom facilities are always nearby. This is necessary because everyone here comes to consume. And consume. And consume. It is endless. From the water that drains through millions of hotel rooms to the sushi trucked in from thousands of miles away, to the plastic that fills every trash can from sugar-and-grain-alochol-filled-novelty drinks, Las Vegas is capitalism run amok. The culmination of waste and greed is enough to make a man declare that America Must Be Destroyed.
In other words, it’s the perfect place to see a Gwar concert.
I awoke at the crack of 3 PM Friday morning and hit the day with as much gusto as I could summon; I drank a quart of water, showered, finished a book I started on the plane, and eventually decided to clothe myself. The night before had stretched on far too long. It was my first evening in Las Vegas that weekend and I chose to spend it playing Blackjack.
If you’ve never played Blackjack, the object of the game is simple: see how many Budweisers the waitress will bring you before you run out of chips. Lady Luck was on my side that night. My last memories of the night include trying four different floors before finding my hotel room and drinking two ounces of tap water, assured that I would feel fine in the morning. I was wrong. I typically am. Guilt over a wasted weekend slowly overcame my desire to lay in an oversized hotel room bed, and I slowly shuffled my ass down to the lobby and out to the taxi stand. “Downtown, my good man”, I mumbled to the taxi driver.
The Las Vegas Strip, where my hotel was located, is an affront to God and all that is decent. The grand architecture and inventive design choices are sullied by unending crowds of drunks, hucksters, and bloated fools. For those of us cursed with a healthy sense of cynicism and a lack of serotonin, The Strip is hell on Earth. I needed a little breathing room. By comparison, downtown Las Vegas offers more modest views, fewer shitfaced Minnesotans, and a modicum (for Vegas) of culture.
While dicking around and gawking at all the funky old casinos and signs, I passed a venue that promised “GWAR” in large letters on the marque. Further inspection showed that, yes, the galactic comic book villains/Virginian metal heavyweights would be performing at that particular location in just a couple of hours alongside Battlecross (cool!) and Born of Osiris (uhhh….). This was fate. I had found my plans for the evening.
After playing a little more Blackjack*, I left The Cortez and walked across the street to the Fremont Country Club. I had just missed local openers We Gave It Hell (sorry dudes, but I’m 28 and drinking/gambling are far more appealing than Sumeriancore), and found that Born of Osiris had to drop off the rest of the tour last minute. Que lastima, as the Spaniards say; I guess I would just have to watch the two bands I wanted to see. I paid the full $25 for entry because press passes are an instrument of the bourgeois and/or writers that can plan their life out more than an hour or two ahead of time.
I entered the venue and got the full-motherfucking-TSA-style patdown. Inside, every surface was covered in plastic wrap; from the wooden bar top, to the animal print covered columns. I saw more security guys in this (maybe) 350-person venue than I’ve seen at some festivals. The Fremont Country Club was expecting some shit to go down, and brother… yeah, nothing really happened.
Battlecross was riffing through Slayer tunes while soundchecking. It was fun! Until that soundcheck stretched on for about a half an hour. With Born of Osiris dropping out, everyone had plenty of time to just kinda figure things out at their own pace. I had a $5 plastic cup full of PBR so I didn’t much care. Eventually, it came time for Battlecross to put on the show.
Occasionally you’ll go to a show and see a band in top form, effortlessly thrilling the crowd with every deft move of showmanship. Most of the time you’ll see a band plow through their standard set. And sometimes, if you’re especially lucky, you’ll see a successful band play the worst set of their career. My friends, the latter happened that night.
The self-described “Blue-Collar Thrash” band from Canton Township, Michigan made the mistake of angering the sound guy. Or God. Possibly both. After a handful of spotty-sounding tunes, the PA shit out on the band altogether. To their credit, the band didn’t stop playing. The stage-volume guitar amps, bass and drums louder than anything, the vocals utterly silent; a Battlecross superfan wouldn’t be able to figure out which song was playing and when. Vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther did his best to keep the crowd from getting restless and angry. I didn’t envy his job.
A friendly stranger approached me during the lull in the set and we chatted about Gwar, Las Vegas, and the state of metal circa 2k15. He bought me a beer. Then another. And another. I was quickly approaching drunk. What a nice guy! Mercifully, the PA system magically returned just in time for Battlecross to finish their set with two more songs. They launched into “Flesh & Bone” with the force of a band whose thumbs were suddenly freed from the constraints of their own ass-prison. For two songs, this band ripped.
My new friend asked if I wanted to do cocaine with him. I politely declined his invitation. He seemed slightly disappointed and exited the venue shortly thereafter. No matter, Gwar was up next.
Two monster-suited slaves took the stage to the sound of a pumping drum machine. They slapped away at latex synthesizers and performed an exceptionally silly EDM-version of “Sick of You”. Predictably, the rest of the band took the stage, slayed the errant slaves and began the process of rockin’. There would be no sound issues with this set.
When I last saw Gwar, the band and audience was openly mourning the loss of Oderus Urungus. With a new group of faces new and old, Gwar put together a show that alternately paid tribute and mocked the character played by Dave Brockie. Though not a soul in the venue would have preferred a new face over Brockie’s, it was legitimately exciting to watch Vulvatron, a rare female Gwar cast-member (RIP Slymenstra Hymen), control the stage and soak the front row with forcefully projected tit-blood. Unfortunately, shortly after that tour Vulvatron (née Kim Dylla) was sacked amid a torrent of he said/she said accusations.
Making a return appearance from the previous tour, Blothar, a hulking figure with antlers for shoulders, would take over as new lead vocalist for the band. It makes sense, his voice is very similar to Oderus, but I was a little disappointed there wouldn’t be additional experimentation at the helm of the band. I liked Vulvatron, y’all. The band was likely well familiar with that sentiment.
The storyline for this tour revolved around the complications of maintaining a working band in the shadow of Brockie’s passing and tribute. Sleazy P. Martini, Gwar’s delightfully evil manager, appeared via video screen to teach the scumdogs about the Internet. The band was shocked to learn that their devices could be used for more than viewing kitten videos and pornography; as it turns out, the Internet is also filled with angry opinions about Gwar, especially after the loss of Oderus.
In between skits, the band played through their 30-year discography. A fight ensued with a female latex monster. Jizmak shouted at the creature, “The direction you wanted to go was stupid; cover songs and lame new characters”. “Hey. I’m a lame new character”, deadpanned Blothar. The thing was slain in an explosion of gore, as is custom. The band met the fabled “Internet Troll”, a giant green cyclops. It too, was dispatched with squishy violence.
After roughly an hour-and-a-half of classic tunes, explosions of violence, and comical drug usage, the band wrapped up their adventure and closed the set with a proper version of “Sick of You”. Drunk and exhausted, the audience shuffled out the door, satisfied and covered in sticky goo. The show left me lingering questions. Did the sound guy sabotage Battlecross? What will Gwar focus on after the chapters of memorial and backlash? I feel pretty wasted, did that guy put something in my drink? It was probably the worst Gwar show I had ever seen, which means it was about 9000x better than most shows.
With these questions in mind, I ventured out to the desert in search of the one thing I craved.