There’s just something about The Vogue. When I see a nationally established band is posted to play there, it just brings a sense of filth and macabre to the show that simply does not compare to any other venue locally. With nothing but illuminated liquor bottles to guide me, I grabbed a Sun King pint and hauled it near the merch tables to stake out my spot. Just about that time, The American Sharks pounced on the stage, hooked in, gave a brief introduction and then belted into the frantic gritty plucks of “Overdrive”. I had seen these nostalgic grunge-punk rock wizards from Austin, Texas when they opened for Clutch back in September. Their greasy segmented riffs and pummeling rhythm have been in my mind ever sense. The punchy jam “Iron Lungs” and its saturation of woolly mammoth fuzz had the pit pulsing in anticipation but ironically is as close to an approachable ‘hit’ these Lone Star lads will ever make. Lead singer/bassist Mike Hardin cracked funny yet cringingly awkward jokes in-between each song which gave these musically menacing hoodlums a likeable underdog charm. “Indian Man” finally won the crowd over with its chord shifting solos and barking vocals that created a sea of banging heads near the stage. It seemed as soon as it began, the set was abruptly over. Guess I shouldn’t be too surprised from a band whose full length album of nine songs is 19 minutes. The American Sharks are a must see anytime they come through town. Their Motorhead meets The Stooges sound brings infectious full throttle energy rarely seen. Apparently, with only two minute songs in their repertoire, it is impossible to wear out their welcome and always leave you wanting more.
I have been a fan of Corrosion of Conformity since the mid-90’s when I would steal their albums from my brother’s room and binge listen. All I knew of COC was through the former front man Pepper Keenan. His vigorous guitarwork and his signature southern granular voice fortified their sound throughout the 90’s. So it was disappointing to hear Keenan wanted to put all his focus in DOWN for the past decade. When original members Mike Dean (bass/vocals), Woody Weatherman (guitar) and Reed Mullin (drums) embraced the stage, I knew it would be an uphill battle to replace their once musical muse. Starting with “Brand New Sleep”, the opening track of the new album IX, COC infects the crowd with its blend of down-tuned sludge that immediately opened the pit up. Weatherman looked enthralled to play solo after solo and was working the crowd every chance he got. You can tell the trio were familiar with each other and were very tight musically. It wasn’t until the brooding squalor of “Deliverance” where it was glaringly noticeable that Dean’s vocal style wasn’t cutting it, to the point of distraction. It continued with all the COC classics like the bruising disheveled anthem “Vote with a Bullet” where Mullin (drums) helped carry the task of vocals and did slightly better in comparison. I’m not sure if there are legal reasons but COC played very little of the 90’s hits that projected them to notoriety. The end of the set was dedicated to a slew of songs off their obscure 1987 punk-hardcore album Animosity, back when the band was still only the trio of Dean, Weatherman and Mullin. These songs, as well as songs from the new album IX, were the least appreciated but were easily the most inspired of the evening as they seemed to find solace in the music they forged together. While I’m sure the vocal duties were forced upon them, you can’t be too hard on a group of guys wanting to continue the dream of making music, no matter the pitfalls. Though in reflection, you can’t deny that the imposing ghost of Pepper Keenan still haunts his former band mates.
I’ll be honest, I know literally nothing of GWAR’s music. I feel I am probably pretty typical in that I had heard (and seen on Jerry Springer) the legendary lore of their absurd stage production and said to myself, I got to see it for myself one day. After the death of their longtime intriguing front man of 32 years Dave “Oderus Urungus” Brockie this past March, I thought I had missed my chance. To my surprise soon after, GWAR inexplicably announced the addition of Kim “Vulvatron” Dylla to the lineup and a calendar full of tour dates. How would/could the band move on without Oderus Urungus? That was the elephant in the room when the house lights went out when the thrash-metal outfit GWAR paraded the stage in their trademarked cartoonish monster costumes and obscene props. The crowd roared when the stage lights kicked on and gleamed upon the slimy exterior of these mythological rock gods.
Like the South Park character says, if you decide to take a GWAR show seriously, you’re going to have a bad time. The ridiculousness began immediately as the plot unfolds that the band wants to bring back Oderus via a time machine. All the while using gimmicky ploys of using Vulvatron’s prosthetic breasts, Blothar’s penis and enlarged ball sack, among other methods to squirt fake blood into the crowd. I was prepared with Ziplock bags ready for my phone and camera but some in the audience were caught by surprise and scampered to find shelter from the liquid debauchery. The only sanctuary found was in the pit, which opened up wide and often to an orbit of colliding masses covered in ‘blood’, sweat and beers. Aside from the silly antics on stage, GWAR as a band are a very cohesive unit, musically. From one song to the next, the band was in concordance in the drone of deathcore metal echoing off the walls of The Vogue. They also have good comedic chemistry as some of the one-liners from the failed attempts to resurrect Oderus had most gut-laughing in unison, fully embracing the silliness on display.
The preposterous stage show definitely takes prominence over the music of GWAR but based on the enthusiasm of the members, you may not be able to convince them of that. A majority in attendance were truly not listening and just stared at the stage at the detailed intergalactic costumed ghouls; waiting for the next deranged incarnated abortion to grace the stage that will inevitably spray fake red or green blood on the now suspecting crowd. If you witnessed this night, undoubtedly GWAR is everything you imagined. They are crude, ludicrous, immoral, and sometimes eye-rollingly idiotic – but more importantly, fun. Not to say the mind-numbing antics don’t eventually lose their muster if exposed to it for too long. So essentially, GWAR is the McRib of music. When the band of GWAR circus freaks rolls back in town next year, maybe we’ll be ready to finally stomach it all over again.