You've been Gwar-ned: Gwar invades Montreal

Gwar with Cancer Bats and X-Cops at Théâtre Beanfield / March 9, 2024

If you thought that maybe the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza is too hot an entry point for a review of a rock show, you'd probably be right. That is, of course, unless it's a review of the last Gwar show. For the last forty years, Gwar has gone where most entertainers fear to tread, meting out cartoonish blood-soaked hyperviolent retribution on a wide variety of villains. Having already savagely murdered Jesus, Satan, Hitler, Bin Laden, Reagan, Trump, Obama, Clinton (both), various popes, and an extensive assortment of politicians and entertainers, ripping Benjamin Netanyahu's face off should perhaps have been expected. Nonetheless, I was still surprised that they chose to tackle the most politically contentious situation of our current time. The audience bristled with discomfort when a dummy of a Jewish child was brought onstage and it wasn't entirely clear where this particular skit was headed. Then came Netanyahu, abusing a dummy of a Palestinian child. "Don't you have a hospital to bomb?", taunted a band member, while another lamented "And they call us monsters. You know you're in trouble when the safest place for a child is on stage with Gwar." 

Ten years ago, I wrote about the magic of Gwar, but there's an additional element at play. Gwar's refusal, perhaps even inability, to embrace the acceptable is a crude act of idealism. The bloodbucket brutality and puerile, caricatured sexuality of Gwar is easy to find horrifying when our contemporary world prefers its violence to be as clean and surgical as drone strikes in the desert and "family first" legislation. There's honesty in Gwar's vulgarity, which is more than can be said about the two-faced politeness that characterizes most of who and what moves our world forward (or arguably backward). 
Gwar doesn't just transgress the boundaries of good taste and gentility; it chainsaws through them. If they had any sacred cows, they'd likely chainsaw through them, too. Nothing is safe from being skewered (often literally) at a Gwar show. Even their own audience members aren't safe. A very real and definitely not rubber dummy Gwar fan was wheeled onto the stage that Saturday night, only to be flayed and then dismembered... well, not entirely. Lead singer Blöthar the Berserker performed what can only be described as an awe-inspiring act of fellatio on the doll's... generous lower half. Even when murdering them in cold blood, Gwar loves their fans.
The Gwar lineup has always been a revolving door. I've been lucky enough to see them with original lead vocalist Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) several times, then with Vulvatron (Kim Dylla) and now with Blöthar (Michael Bishop) on a couple of occasions. This show's notable new addition is guitarist Grodius Maximus (Tommy Meehan), who picks up axe duty from the previous Maximus, Pustulus (Brent Purgason). Grodius is no stranger to a rubber mask; in another rock'n'roll reality he's a reptilian religious rocker with Cancer Christ. With all the silliness onstage, it can be hard to focus on the evolution of the band's lineup and lore, but Grodius has made himself unignorable by wielding a hot pink tiger-striped multi-pointed guitar and sassy onstage presence, and his arrival to the Gwar universe was one of the central storylines of that evening's performance. 
With all the activity onstage and the never ending spray of blood and bodily fluids, it can sometimes be easy to forget that Gwar is a band and not a theatre troupe. With 15 records under their belt, their back catalogue is extensive, but it was no surprise that they leaned more heavily into their most recent release, 2022's The New Dark Ages on this tour. New or old, it's all party music, and not many bands can say that 27 years separate their singalong encore songs (perennial favorite "Sick of You" with show closer "Fuck This Place") and with both receiving an equally enthusiastic a response. 
As a final arc of blood spurted through the air above me, I was filled with a strange sense of peace; no matter what, we remain flesh and gristle, bone and blood, so self-important but so easy to shock and mock. There's something reassuring about our refusal to accept our own frailty, and I hope for another 40 years of Gwar throwing our own silliness back at us. 
Gwar is being supported on this tour by Canadian hardcore darlings Cancer Bats, and the Montreal crowd was also granted a performance by Gwar side project X-Cops, which combines speed metal and the pageantry of Gwar-style skits and silliness with the fun-for-the-whole-family realness of police brutality. In all seriousness though, the set was amusing enough and hardly toes the thin blue line, but unlike the overt theatricality of Gwar this hits a little bit too close to reality and I wasn't too invested that night. 
I was, however, thrilled to see the Cancer Bats again. It's been a minute since I've seen them perform indoors and I was excited for their set. It did not disappoint; they have a lot of material to lean into, so I was very pleased to hear "Lucifer's Rocking Chair", one of my personal favorites from Hail Destroyer. A fun surprise was Brooklyn Doran joining the band for "Hammering On" from 2022's Psychic Jailbreak. Hearing this very Ozzy-and-Lita duet for our times live gave me a renewed appreciation for the song. What I didn't want to hear was yet another performance of their cover of "Sabotage" by Beastie Boys. I still don't understand why they recorded that track (and as faithfully as possible), and I certainly don't understand why they seem to want to play it every show. Stage time is limited, and in the case of Cancer Bats, they have 7 full-length albums to their name, so more than enough material. In my world, cover songs are meant to be three things: 1) unexpected, 2) rare, 3) reinterpretations. The performance of a previously released and fairly note perfect cover is none of those. In any case, judging by the howling of the crowd and this screenshot from (taken a full week after the show!), I'm the only hater when it comes to this particular topic. You can go ahead and send your disapproval and complaints to BVST care of this website, and I'll go ahead and not change my mind. 
Angelica hosts BVST every Wednesday at 7 - 9 PM on CJLO. Tune in for the best (& worst) rock'n'roll, country, punk & metal!