GWAR: An Experience


Picture this: a group of middle-aged dads wearing rubber monster costumes, brandishing electric guitars, and latex battleaxes, trample onto a stage as a sea of white t-shirt clad concert-goers scream and cheer for the band. A ridiculous effigy of a celebrity or stereotype is brought onstage, “decapitated”, and proceeds to spray “blood” onto the ready audience. If you think this sounds absurd, you’d be shocked to learn that these shows have become a staple of American pop culture.

GWAR is an American heavy metal band hailing from Richmond, Virginia, not icy tombs in the depths of Antarctica like they claim. From their humble beginnings as a gaggle of young art school graduates living in an abandoned dairy factory, they have successfully created an iconic brand known for their live shows and sense of humor.

Throughout more than 30 years of making music and plenty of lineup changes, GWAR has carefully crafted a storyline filled with science-fiction tropes, drug-addicted aliens, giant undead dinosaurs, and a rainbow of blood and other fluids. While doing this, they have also created a dedicated fanbase who call themselves Bohabs. Bohabs are to GWAR what Juggalos are to Insane Clown Posse.

I first saw GWAR live in 2019 when I was 13 years old, right before the global pandemic hit. Being 4’11, I got as close to the stage as I could, hoping to see every detail of the costumes and every intricate movement of the guitarists. When they hit the stage I was in awe. I had loved this band for quite some time, and now I was getting to see the real thing. I had their CDs, t-shirts, comic books, and tons of fan art I made. I stood there in my homemade spew shirt with my mouth wide open, until the spew hit me in the back of the throat.

I left the Mill and Mine green and red with ringing ears, already wondering what my second GWAR show would be like. On Friday, November 12th of 2021, I finally got to find out.

After exploring The Masquerade, an underground venue located in Atlanta, I found my spot on the floor as fast as I could. While the opening acts (Eyehategod and Napalm Death, two extremely amazing and heavy bands) played, I awkwardly waddled around trying to find a little window where I could see past the big and tall people standing in my way.

Right before GWAR took the stage, I made a comment about how I couldn’t see anything at all. I’m glad I complained because the people in front of me pushed me against the barricade immediately after I had said that. I could see the cords on the stage, the pedals they were using, every prop, every piece of the framework that pulled the show together.

On this tour, GWAR was celebrating the 30th anniversary of their second, and probably their most iconic album, Scumdogs of The Universe. Not only did the setlist feature tons of songs from the album, but the structure of the show was also almost exactly like one of their concerts from the 90s. By that, I mean that there was little to no structure at all. The band got on stage, cracked some immature and offensive jokes, “killed” some stuff, and played some prodigious thrash metal.

While I certainly had fun at my first GWAR show, nothing could compare to this experience. During the first song, I exchanged a little wave with the mountainous cow-like lead singer, Blothar. After this, he promptly pressure-washed my face for at least 30 seconds. I couldn’t open my eyes and all I could hear was the spew splashing against my face accompanied by the muffled guitar riffs and drums, but I was having the time of my life. I was entirely drenched and freezing cold thanks to the gigantic metal fan that hung above the crowd but I couldn’t have been happier.

When the band began to reach the end of their set for the night, their bear-trap-faced rhythm guitarist pointed directly at me after finishing a song. I pointed back, not sure what else I was supposed to do, and he promptly tossed the guitar pick that he had been using to me. The pick landed right at my feet and because I couldn’t bend over to grab it, he tossed a few more in my direction, which I thought was a really sweet gesture for a blood-thirsty monster from outer space. I ended up getting the original pick he had thrown to me and took it home as a little trophy from the night.

If you have the chance, I highly recommend attending a GWAR concert. Even if you aren’t there for the music, or you aren’t there hoping to get wet, you can still have fun and enjoy watching the funny and visually mesmerizing show. Despite reaching legendary status in the world of performing arts and music, GWAR remains down to earth and keeps their tickets affordable.

Personally, I think I am most in my element when I’m covered in fake blood and bile watching aliens play guitar, surrounded by people like me. GWAR’s fanbase spans across all kinds of subcultures. Sci-fi nerds, metalheads, horror fans, comic book geeks, goths, and just people who don’t really fit in.

I find myself identifying with all these kinds of people, so to have a place where we can all come together and bond over a shared interest is really special. Even if that shared interest is grown men play-fighting each other in grotesque latex alien suits.