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Gross: Point-Blank : No Need to Sugarcoat Words When Gwar Itself Hasn't the Taste to Spew Original Mayhem

May 16, 1997|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — If nothing else, Gwar's typically gore-soaked night of heavy-metal shtick Wednesday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre revealed who has dibs on the "hack" in "hackneyed."

Since the late '80s, this Richmond, Va., band has been pandering to fans of deafening volume and extreme bad taste.

Its members decked in armored-barbarian regalia probably nicked from the gang of miscreants in "The Road Warrior," Gwar played nondescript speed-metal of the chug-chug-skree-skree-yell-yell school, providing its own soundtrack for a cartoonish Grand Guignol of simulated mayhem and sexual violence. Think of the World Wrestling Federation as scripted by Larry Flynt.

While Gwar is objectionable on all the usual grounds cited by the William Bennett school of defenders of public virtue, its show also was objectionable by hard-rock's own Bacchanalian standards. Gwar's sins are predictability, lack of wit and, above all, an absence of songs worth hearing.

Gwar served up a good deal more grossness than Alice Cooper or KISS in their horror-rock heydays, but it was artless overcompensation for second-rate music that seldom worked with the theatrics except as a pounding backdrop.

You'd think Gwar would try to be stylish and give its violent jousting some timing and choreography and enough character development to build some rooting interest. But no--this was mere unstructured hack-work, lacking any of the diabolical wit that might have flavored the proceedings.

The Galaxy show unfolded mechanically, and, compared with its 1990 concert video, "Live From Antarctica," somewhat tamely--except for some hot action between the security crew and a few fans who climbed out of the packed house and onto the stage.

Led by the devil-headed, sword-wielding lead barker, Oderus Urungus, Gwar inflicted beheading, evisceration and sexual humiliation upon various props and supporting characters, with showers of fake blood from the victims and fake urine and semen from the log-like prosthetic phallus sported by Urungus.

The upscale Galaxy protected its walls and carpeting by shielding vulnerable surfaces with plastic sheeting and restricting Gwar's firing range so that only fans in the stage-front pit could get the soaking that its die-hards crave.

*

Urungus' most persuasively icky moment came early in the show, when he disemboweled a penguin doll with his teeth. By the end, though, as Gwar jousted with a promising archenemy, a gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex, the crew could come up with no better climactic coup-de-grace than a bloodless knockout punch to the snout.

On the queasiness scale, a typical "Itchy and Scratchy" segment from "The Simpsons" would outdo Gwar. And that gruesomely dueling cartoon cat-and-mouse duo has the added advantage of serving as a satiric commentary on violence. Gwar was just a raunchy spectacle.

It's possible to imagine a seriously misanthropic shock-rock routine that acts out inhuman horrors not to titillate, but to express genuine revulsion at humanity's baseness.

Such an act--Trent Reznor may have it in him--would probably be harder to take than Gwar, but (assuming it could write a decent song) it would be artistically valid in using hideous means to make a moral point. After the machete madness in Rwanda, where ghastly reality outstripped any of the fantasies enacted at the Galaxy, Gwar's antics seem trifling indeed.

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