Jun 28 2010 1:38pm

GWAR: The Other Side of Geekdom

I need to preface this blog with some information. I am not a “metal head.” Nor am I a person who even normally goes to concerts. I do enjoy music, and I can get into some of the fringes of hard rock and trance or techno, but still, metal in and of itself is not something that I usually listen to. Yet, when my friends insisted I come with them down to Myrtle Beach for a GWAR concert, I was perversely interested. I mean, I had heard of GWAR, and I knew there was something to do with monster-aliens and lots of blood and gore and a strange stage show. But oh, how little did I truly know.

Well, let us start with a little bit about GWAR for those who don’t know. GWAR is a band started twenty-five years ago in Richmond, VA by what I can only imagine were the only five metal-head/geeks in the city. This, of course, is not the story we saw in the ten-minute opening featurette. No, GWAR was found in the ice of Antartica by a pimp who was fleeing the authorities after inventing crack cocaine. He got them high, and they became a band that regularly massacred their fans. Despite this, they became huge, went through drug problems, rehab, and intergalactic warfare.

After the featurette, the band itself came on in full costume, from a character with a bear-trap for a head to a monstrous demon with a rather large, um, member. They started playing, and I honestly could not understand a word that was being said, but I still got the gist, especially during the story-sections which were not sung and thus understandable. GWAR had finally repaired their spaceship and, after stocking up on plenty of crack, were finally off to rejoin their scumdog compatriots in ravaging the universe.

About that time, an (evil?) robot named Cardinal Sin sprays GWAR and the audience with a virus that will turn them good and righteous, and if not cured, all GWAR will be able to play would be Christian Rock. And thus begins the quest, including the torture and mutilation of one of Cardinal Sin’s lackies on stage, a fight with a re-incarnated Michael Jackson and the strange, mutant love-child created between Michael and the lead singer, Oderus Urungus. They then kill the baby, as it contained the cure, crash back on Earth, fight and destroy Cardinal Sin, then slink off to snort some crack. The encore show included them decapitating a caricature of Obama (who had been trying to congratulate them on saving the Earth) and Oderus, um, spraying the audience.

Perhaps you can understand my brain-melty-ness and why it has taken me nearly two weeks to write about this. What really shocks me, though, was that there was some actual meaning behind the show. It was a satirical look at several perceptions, as well as flying-in-the-face of what is considered normal. So, taken with that, they actually double-qualify as sci-fi, at least in my book. Not only are there the sci-fi elements in the spaceships, alien band members, and monstrous robots, but they are taking a step back in abstraction and discussing society and issues therein. Is it Heinlein or Asimov? Of course not, but I somehow doubt the crowd that is enjoying GWAR is likely to read Starship Troopers anytime soon.

And speaking of the crowd, they’re another thing that surprised me. I was with several metal-show vets, and supposedly the mosh pit was beyond civil, as mosh pits go and in a good mosh pit way. Yes people were still flinging each other about like a large-scale demonstration of molecular movement in a confined space, but everyone was quick to help out someone who fell or lost a shoe. As far as I know, there was only one semi-serious injury at the show, and that wasn’t even in the pit. Kind of goes towards a theory I’ve always nurtured that social geeks (the ones who go to big cons, shows, etc) are more likely to be courteous and awesome to each other than the average non-geek.

But, moral of the story aside, GWAR was something definitely from out of this world, even if not quite in the way their mythos would depict it. I have a feeling I will probably go and see another of their shows, although I will probably not be standing a few feet from the stage the next time so I can better watch the show instead of being deafened and covered in strange liquids. And I say to you, if you have even a mild tendency towards metal and you are a geek, check them out next time they are in your area. If anything, it is an experience you will not find anywhere else.

Pictures from

Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and finally able to hear again. You can find more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at

Chris Whetzel
1. chriswhetzel
Yes! GWAR ruled my high school and college years; the live performance is really unforgettable!

And yes, everyone looks out for each other at the shows. I had a shoe come untied and thought I was a goner when I couldn't move my foot with the surge of the crowd (people were standing on my laces). But then this behemoth of a gizzly old metal man literally parted the sea so I could tie my shoe real quick while clinging to him. At the same show, I had to hold up a kid that looked to be about 13/14 so that he wouldn't fall to the floor and be trampled.

Dangerous? Yes. One of the most fun experiences of my life? Definitely! Ha, my girlfriend still cringes when she sees my GWAR-stained t-shirt hanging in the back of the closet!

Great post!
2. ghenjei
Richard, best write-up of a GWAR show I've seen in a while. These guys definitely put on an awesome display.
Ashe Armstrong
3. AsheSaoirse
Gwar is my favorite band, period. They're full of geeky references, satire, social commentary and fury. They make their costumes and props, write their music and lyrics and work that shit 1000% all year round. They've made movies, comics, guest spots (Oderus frequently guests on Fox News's Red Eye) and even a couple of movie cameos. They're dark, brutal, crude and incredibly smart. I love every second of it and when I finally got to see them a few years ago, it was like a religious experience. My gods walked onto the stage, towering above we mere mortals.
4. Korsaktion
Hey Richard,

I think you'll be pleased to learn that GWAR falls under the category of bands started by Art School grads. A fine tradition in the music industry. If memory serves they all went to Virginia Commonwealth University back in the late 80's. They have also been know to occasionally perform unplugged and out of make up as RAWG.
Ashe Armstrong
5. AsheSaoirse
Don't forget X-Cops and The Dave Brockie Experience (DBX).
Richard Fife
9. R.Fife
Oh Church, have I got a story for the Protomen. They were performing at my first Dragon*con, and I'd never heard of them, but my best friend's little sister loves them and found out I was going to be around them, so she commanded me to get soem video and pictures of them. Alas, their concert time conflicted with other commitments, and I didn't see them. After that, said little sister has sworn to take out my kneecaps with a crowbar one day. I shall forever live in fear.
Church Tucker
10. Church
@9 Richard

Tell her that I'll hold your legs.

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