Clifton Park

GWAR bring ruthless satire — and blood — to Capital Region

Band sprays down, elates crowd at weekend stop at Upstate
Beefcake the Mighty (Casey Orr) performs with shock rockers GWAR Saturday night at Upstate Concert Hall.
Beefcake the Mighty (Casey Orr) performs with shock rockers GWAR Saturday night at Upstate Concert Hall.

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

America is divided.

But despite our differences, we can probably all agree a suburban strip mall is an unlikely place to find a sense of cathartic release from the turmoil roiling the country. 

If you ever wanted to see a fictional papier-mache depiction of President Trump engage in profane acts before meeting a grisly end, you’ve got it. 

Same goes for Caitlyn Jenner. 

Long-running metal satirists GWAR brought their roadshow to Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park on Saturday. 

The location, tucked into a suburban plaza, wasn’t lost on the Richmond, Virginia-based outfit, who continually addressed the crowd as “people of the shopping center.”

The band, which evolved out of a group art school students in the late-1980s, uses costumes and slapstick skits as part of their elaborate gore-filled stage shows, which revolve around the band’s long-running mythos: 

In short, a ragtag band of misfits went AWOL from their home planet, formed an intergalactic army and are now banished to earth while playing rock and roll.

In a nod to current events, sketches on their “Use Your Collusion” tour find the band of outcasts on trial by an international tribunal.

One by one, a cast of characters emerges to do battle with the musicians. 

And each challenger is summarily dispatched using various methods of over-the-top brutality, most involving hacked off limbs and bodily fluid-spewing prosthetics, which are pointed at the crowd with gusto. 

Within moments of the opening chords, a band member in oversized armor decapitated a court bailiff and directed his gushing neck into the crowd, whose reaction bordered on beatific for the duration of the 90-minute spectacle. 

Like KISS, the band’s performance is a tightly-choreographed performance, including video screens, costumes and stage props. But unlike the aging glam rockers, who are hanging it up after one final (indeterminable?) world tour, GWAR ventures to the extreme boundaries of good taste, and doesn’t cross the line, but rather gleefully steamrolls through it. 

Case in point: 

References to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, a skit involving a pregnant Jenner and the aforementioned current occupant of the Oval Office, who met a gnarly end after one final moment of profane indignity. 

“Battle Maximus” saw our heroes fight a 15-foot-tall judge, who was eventually — what else — decapitated as the band plowed through a doomy metal instrumental.

And then there are the characters known as Sawborg Destructo and Dickie Duncan, a grotesque, Michelin Man-like figure with a Russian hat who waddled on-stage and was ultimately bisected as television screens flashed “no collusion” intercut with scenes of people scarfing down hamburgers. 

From disposable culture to the nation’s ever-present fascination with celebrity culture, all is fodder for the band to ruthlessly mock and satirize.

Of course, that’s the appeal for the band’s fanbase, self-described “bohabs,” many of whom wore white t-shirts in anticipation of their ritual baptism of blood.

Despite the schtick, which garnered a considerable amount of notoriety in the 1990s on the daytime talk show circuit, it can be easy to overlook the band’s ability to craft a sonic hook, particularly when dancing stagehands in loincloths are spraying you down in bodily fluids.

Beyond the sordid pageantry, the quintet offers a perfectly serviceable brand of thrash metal.

Songs like “Maggots,” “Sick of You” and “I, Bonesnapper” have earned rightful entry into the metal pantheon along anthems by more well-heeled Metallica and Megadeth.

The band even ventures into experimentalist territory with songs like “Have You Seen Me?”, while “Metal Metal Land” is chock full of melodic hooks that could be at home on any radio station.

“If I Could Be That” resulted in waves of blood-soaked crowd surfers, many with delirious looks of rapture, as frontman “Blothar” belted out a chorus of teenage angst:

“Angry, stupid, drunken, violent, angry, stupid, bitter — Won’t be silent/I wanna be something/I wanna be something/I wanna see something/I’m gonna get nothing.”

The setlist contained songs equally dispersed throughout their 30-year career, including a fair share from 2017’s “The Blood of the Gods,” their first full-length album following the death of co-founder Dave Brockie in 2014, an event that many feared would spell the end of the shock rockers. 

The crowd skewed young, which revealed the band has suffered no loss of cachet in the past three decades and has found a way to continually reach new generations without mainstream support.

The monsters closed the set with a cover of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It),” which ended with one final spraydown as the band and stagehands danced on stage with fans.

By the end of the night, the floor was slick with blood, and the “people of the shopping center” were thoroughly shell-shocked as they spilled out into the neon-lit darkness.


Support came from a solid A-list lineup of emerging and established thrash bands. 

Against the Grain stirred together elements of metal, hardcore punk and the barroom sleaze of 1970s bands like Motorhead and Thin Lizzy into an indelible package.

Standouts were songs like “Last Change,” which was given flight with twin guitar harmonizing and soloing paired with turbocharged speed metal aggression. 

The Detroit-based band added an often-absent sense of pathos to thrash metal, which can be clinical at times, sacrificing feeling for the sake of technical virtuosity. 

Also on the bill was Toxic Holocaust, who have been at the center of the “re-thrash” movement, which aims to resurrect the genre with a contemporary sheen, for the past two decades. 

The band’s sixth full-length LP, “Primal Future: 2019,” released Oct. 4, is a throwback to the genre’s heyday, from tightly-wound sonic craftsmanship to themes of warfare, nuclear waste and political corruption. 

But where perhaps Against the Grain served as the set’s rollicking emotional core, and Toxic Holocaust, the technical virtuosos, Sacred Reich proved to be the night’s beating heart and conscience. 

The Arizona veterans are touring in support of their first record in 23 years, “The Awakening,” released in August. 

The band was part of the second-wave of thrash in the mid-1980s, but never really achieved liftoff and disbanded in 2000 before reforming a half-decade later. 

Bassist and frontman Phil Rind offered a stream of good-natured commentary in between thrashing bruisers, which wasn’t as much between-song banter as it was a self-affirming pep talk.

On the title track: “It’s about awakening the love in all of us — not fear,” Rind said. 

“Divide and Conquer” lamented what he said was a tactic used by politicians to “distract you from when they’re picking your pockets.”

“Salvation” spoke to the power of music — “No one is coming to save us,” Rind warned — while “Killing Machine” lamented young people signing up to serve in the U.S. military without full knowledge of the repercussions, he said. 

Set standout was “Surf Nicaragua,” a late-1980s ripper infused with classic surf elements and melodies (“Wipe Out”) and call-and-response from audience.

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