GWAR, What Is It Good For?

Ever seen the sad folks slipping dollar after dollar into the bar-top video machines at your local dive? You know the machine I'm talking about, the one that quizzes you on sex trivia or your anagram skills or, best of all, your ability to compare two images and find five differences between them. Yes, I'm talking about Photo Hunt, and the first step to my recovery is admitting that I'm totally addicted to it.

Finding those five differences can dull my brain all night long, and it got so bad recently that I knew I needed a jolt to my cortical region to snap out of it. And what better way than the full assault on the senses that is a GWAR show?

So, on a Tuesday night, I headed to Culture Room, often packed with a slender indie-rock crowd that bends and waves when you meander through it on your way to the john. It wasn't GWAR's fan base so much, but the place was packed. Huge guys in white T-shirts, mohawked men in black, and a few girls on shoulders did not permit easy passage.

GWAR came out wearing massive shoulder armor with skulls and swords that made them look like monsters and lunatics in a medieval torture chamber, eager to break bodies.

The roar began. High, screeching guitars howled. The crowd threw devil horns and yelled along to unintelligible lyrics. It didn't take long for GWAR to roll out an effigy of President Bush on a handtruck and disembowel him with a huge sword.

Now, that was just the kind of shock I was looking for.

To be honest, I was totally freaked out by the huge monsters on stage and blood shooting all over the room, and I hovered beneath an overhang. I've never seen rock music so closely resemble hell. The herd was moving, and people were crowd-surfing. A severely light-headed man plowed through the crowd where I was standing and took a rest on the floor in the back of the club. A short, stalky guy with sweat-soaked brown hair and an angry look in his eyes was walking around headbanging. He came up to me and, quite deliberately, started shaking his hair sweat on me.

I moved away from him, and it wasn't long before GWAR brought good old Dick Cheney out and lopped his head right off. Blood started shooting from his neck all over the packed crowd, and I huddled in the back with my friends, trying not to get splashed.

I'd seen enough. I went outside, where I met a 37-year-old guy in a Dropkick Murphys T-shirt who calls himself DJ TJ and says that GWAR is "the longest-running underground band that never had radio play. They were on Headbanger's Ball back in the old days." He describes what I've seen as "an off-the-wall fetish kind of macabre, socially unacceptable" performance.

"Yeah," I tell him, "I was a little scared in there."

"Like every mosh scene, this pit gets a little vicious, but if you fall, everyone just picks you back up."

"What," I ask TJ, "was your favorite execution tonight?"

"Probably the pope."

The crowd spilled out of the club into the open-air patio drenched in blood. At the outside bar, I found a luscious brunet with serious, blood-soaked cleavage popping out of the front-and-center slit in her Devastation T-shirt. I asked her what she thought of the show.

"There are a lot of diehard bands that try to do stuff like this, but you don't see stuff like GWAR does. They fucked Jon Benet Ramsey four or five years ago at the Button South. Lacey Peterson had her baby onstage.

"I'm friends with them," she said. "When I met them, they weren't in costume. I stole them, and we went to six or seven clubs. I was hanging out with them for three hours, and I get to the China Club in Chicago. This guy standing next to me asked them, 'What do you do?' He was like, 'I'm the lead singer of GWAR.'

"Now, I steal them every year and take them around and party."

"What's your name?" I asked the woman.

"Hey, you're not going to write something bad about them, are you?" she asked, suddenly realizing that she was being forthcoming with someone she didn't know.

"I don't think so," I replied.

"Do you want to meet them?" she asked.

"Why, sure," I said, hoping one of them was still in costume so I could get freaked out. Maybe this was better than Photo Hunt after all.

So we slipped out the back door of the courtyard, sloshed through a rain puddle, and arrived at the backstage door, where people were hosing down the stage props.

As we walked across the back of the strip mall, the woman rushed over to the band and started hugging them. I stood there unnoticed, and somebody said, "Go find the sluts."

"She wants to interview you," the woman said to Dave Brockie, who looked up at me and said "Give me 20 minutes" before letting his towel drop from his waist.

Out of modesty, I looked away. Foolishly, perhaps. The synapses started firing, and I realized that if what I'd chosen not to see at all resembled that monstrous dildo he was wearing onstage, well, then... and the tour bus was right there and all.

Apparently, there weren't many sluts to be had, the way the club had cleared out. At that rate, the boys needed all the time they could get. Besides, a stronger impulse started to kick in.

Around the corner, Briny's Irish Pub's Photo Hunt machine beckoned.

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Courtney Hambright