In the very first moments of GWAR’s Use Your Collusion Tour set at Newport Music Hall, the band decapitated a man on stage, aiming his gushing stump of a neck at the crowd and soaking the spectators in blood. This was the tamest stunt the band pulled all night.
GWAR is a group widely known for its revolting costumes, offensive sketches and gory prosthetics, all involving a liberal use of projectile fake blood. Going into this show, I had never seen GWAR live, nor did I even listen to all that much heavy metal. I went because I knew a GWAR performance is a unique experience; one I couldn’t miss. Even so, I was woefully unprepared for just how drenched in sticky, red goo I was going to become.
Upon entering the venue, I was immediately struck by the crowd’s appearance. While the people were a usual metal mix of ponytails, patchy beards and even patchier leather vests, they were not donned in the customary all black — normally a mainstay of the metal scene. Instead, a large portion of the crowd was wearing plain white T-shirts. When I asked a fellow audience member about his attire, he looked at me incredulously, asking, “Have you ever been to a GWAR show before?”
Concert merch is cool, but if you plan to attend a GWAR show, know that the bloodstains are the real souvenir.
With three opening acts — each more intense than the last — the concert was a long haul. When all was said and done, nearly six hours had passed from the time doors opened to when the lights came back on.
The night was kicked off by Against the Grain, who were everything one would expect from a heavy metal show. Long hair, tattoos and trucker hats accented a wall of nearly indiscriminate sound, punctuated by incessant cracking rimshots from the drummer and mountain lion screeches from the vocalist. The crowd jostled and shoved, but it was generally a friendly atmosphere.
Next up was Toxic Holocaust, who looked quite similar to Against the Grain but played with modern metal’s trademark chugging guitar. They brought a lot more energy to the stage than the previous act, treating their instruments as both weapons of war and religious totems, in a way that only a man in double denim with bleached hair can. The crowd was noticeably more aggressive during this set, with a violent mosh raging during most of the tunes. There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of shoving a total stranger as hard as you can, after all.
The final opener — in keeping with the offensive naming theme — was Sacred Reich. A far more established act in the metal scene, lead singer Phil Rind remarked that the band’s last show at the Newport was about 30 years ago. The band proved why it has remained beloved by metalheads despite just recently releasing its first album in 23 years, electrifying the crowd with a set that flowed through peaks and valleys, giving its highs far more intensity than a constant barrage of thrash could hope to achieve.
After Sacred Reich said its goodbyes, it was time for the main event. Gory props were set out, and the stage was soon littered with desiccated corpses, rusty engine parts and an evil toilet. The stagehands changed from jeans and T-shirts into loin cloths or thongs, taking on the role of the slaves of GWAR. In the decades-long, twisting mythos of the band — usually played out through comedic on-stage skits — they claim to be intergalactic conquerors, cast-offs from a warlike race of Scumdogs.
In this next development of the GWAR universe, the band was put on trial. The Law and Order theme played as the band, consisting of Blöthar the Berserker on vocals, Balsac the Jaws of Death on rhythm guitar, Jizmak da Gusha on drums, Beefcake the Mighty on bass and Pustulus Maximus on lead guitar, take the stage, leading to the aforementioned decapitation. Between each of their violent yet tongue-in-cheek songs, the band members bantered in ridiculous character voices in a way that was rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely excused the unrelenting edginess of the group.
That is, after all, the point of a GWAR performance. The band seeks to satirize the very concept of seriousness. Whether it’s by performing a C-section on a stagehand dressed as Caitlyn Jenner or firing blood and slime from the four heads of Blöthar’s udder, shock is a staple of the show. I know I have plenty of aunts and uncles who would have clutched their pearls at the sight of a bloated Donald Trump being eviscerated on stage, but it’s far from a political statement; GWAR has made a point to punish every prosthetic president since Reagan.
I certainly expected this sort of sophomoric, scatological humor, yet I still found certain moments of the show too much to stomach. The major takeaway is that a GWAR concert is not for the faint of heart; the band will find a way to get under your skin.
The show culminated in an epic on-stage battle with a 12-foot tall judge who, like every other character brought on stage, was dismembered in slapstick fashion. As the lights on stage faded, Blöthar roared a triumphant “Goodnight Cleveland!” Not long after, the crowd demanded an encore, chanting “We want blood!” at the top of their lungs.
And blood they got.
During a ripping tag performance, audience members were brought on stage to be fed into a meat grinder. So much faux blood was shot into the crowd, the floor became slick. Most audience members resembled Carrie on prom night. I witnessed a stagehand fire a blood hose directly into the face and mouth of a single audience member for nearly a full minute. From personal experience, I can tell you it doesn’t taste very good, and it makes your eyes sting.
Overall, it’s hard to say whether GWAR is a concert I would recommend. It was like nothing I have ever experienced, but it’s certainly not an experience for everyone. I can guarantee neither enjoyment, nor sanitation from an evening with the Scumdogs of the Universe. I can only guarantee blood.