Long Live the Enduring, Absurd Glory of GWAR
If you call GWAR's Brent Purgason to chat about his band, you're presented with not one potential interview subject but two.
The first is Purgason himself, who has played guitar for the Richmond,Va. thrash metal veterans since 2012, taking over that role after Cory Smoot's 2011 death from coronary thrombosis. The second is Pustulus Maximus, Purgason's GWAR-ified alter ego -- a half-deaf, loin-cloth-sporting freak who has a blue face covered in pustules and has a skull for a helmet.
Pustulus' cousin was Flattus Maximus, a GWAR character last portrayed by Smoot. Born with a guitar in his hand, Pustulus came from outer space in order to solidify Flattus' legacy on Earth, and contribute "a couple of diddly-widdlies" to 2013's Battle Maximus, the outfit's thirteenth record. Then, GWAR vocalist/leader Oderus Urungus sabotaged Pustulus' ship, preventing him from returning home, so now he bides his time among us schmucks.
I choose to interview the latter, of course.
Then, Purgason yells for Pustulus, there's some grunting, and the creature himself hops on the line. For the next 20 minutes, Pustulus Maximus talks about or references Ebola (he gives GWAR credit for creating the disease), Jeffrey Dahmer, chopped-up hookers, a swimming pool filled with cocaine, elephant semen, Adam and Eve being GWAR's -- not God's -- first children, and that time in the 1970s when Mother Teresa gave him a blow job.
He also reminisces about meeting his band. "The very first time I encountered GWAR was in an Antarctican gang bang. That's where we all became really close friends," he says. "There was no girls there, which made it a little weird, but you know, you power through it."
The more Pustulus talks, the more extreme and bizarre the discussion grows. No taboo is taboo. These are the twisted pleasures of GWAR, who are pound-for-pound one of the most entertaining bands in show biz. Since 1984, their shtick has consisted of embracing inane, insane B-grade-horror-movie-style aesthetics, shock value and the more ridiculous aspects of metal, and pouring them into a sprawling, prop-wielding, latex-wearing cast of weirdos from another world.
Creepy effigies of and stand-ins for politicians and public figures, like George W. Bush and Paris Hilton, are awkwardly ripped apart and defiled as crowds roar. (Pustulus complains that ISIS stole the beheading gimmick from his group.) Don't wear your Sunday best when you see GWAR; if you're up close, you'll leave the show covered in all colorful, strange fluids shot from the stage. Their vibe is unruly, loud, over-the-top and proudly escapist -- one both genuinely in love with metal and always ready to take the piss out of it.
For a group so light-hearted and out there, they have been hit by horrible, sobering news recently. Not even three years after Smoot died, Dave Brockie -- who played Oderus, the band's most public face and, personally speaking, a humdinger of an interview subject -- accidentally overdosed and died this past March. After a short hiatus, GWAR regrouped for their fifth annual GWAR-B-Q event in August, with bassist Mike Bishop now singing as the new character Blothar.
At a pre-GWAR-B-Q event, his band mates gave Brockie a memorial service and his character's costume a viking funeral (in-character, the group discusses Oderus as if he's just gone missing). It isn't crass to keep a band like GWAR going; even though it's composed of real human beings, its utter outlandishness, and emphasis on characters and cartoonish escapism means that it can always be open to alterations. With the reins in the right hands, GWAR is the kind of project that could exist for generations.
Pustulus feels similarly, and when he discusses the group's future, you can sense Purgason coming through his words. "We seem to have about 975 years left in our thousand-year reign as a rock 'n' roll band. We have that to look forward to," he says before promoting GWAR's latest show as a must-see. "We're going to pull out all the stops from here until the end of time. We're going to try to get bigger and bigger. As for trying to push on without Oderus, we're going to attempt to do the best we can, and I think we can still put on a great show."
GWAR perform with Decapitated and American Sharks at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Mon., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.
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