Photo by Danielle Griscti  

The Opera House, Toronto – Dec 9/14

The last time I saw Dave Brockie he was smiling. It was a good smile too. Not a big toothy one, but the kind of wide smirk that can only be achieved within the bounds of a drunken stupor. Just a couple of hours before, Dave had stepped offstage at Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre as Oderus Urungus the lead singer / warlord of Gwar. After the show a small group headed to a bar up the street.

The two of us were the last to leave, and Dave had specifically put me in charge of making sure he got back to the bus, as he had no idea where we were going. Even though it was a straight shot back to the venue, as we were leaving the bar Dave immediately made a right turn so I had to spring into action. As we walked we talked about the things that guys talk about. It was then that the smile emerged. It had contentment written all over it. At age 50 he had achieved the impossible. Gwar, the silly costumed metal band he’d nurtured for three decades had become sustainable. In our interview earlier that day he talked about how he wanted Gwar to carry on after his retirement.

Three months later he was gone. Just over a year later, Gwar returned to Toronto to play The Opera House. Although there has been much written about how the band now had two new lead singers, make no mistake, Gwar is now an ensemble act. Everyone is lead singer. Original Gwar bassist Michael Bishop, the first to portray character Beefcake The Mighty, has now returned as the antler-adorned Blothar. Also for the first time in 15 years Gwar has a female vocalist with the debut of Vulvatron (portrayed by fashion designer Kim Dylla).

How is the show without Oderus? Surprisingly, heartwrenchingly sad. Yes Gwar fight monsters and those monsters explode and cover the audience in fake blood and bile. Yes there are amazingly terrible one-liners, and yes Vulvatron’s breasts shoot blood too. That all seems in line with what you would expect from a Gwar show. But without Oderus, everyone else on stage gives a little bit extra to fill the gap. Vocal duties are shared, and Blothar naturally filled in on the bass when Vulvatron and the current Beefcake stepped up for a duet. Guitarist Pustulus Maximus (Brent Purgason), who became integral to the band after the 2011 passing of guitarist Cory Smoot, also had his fair share of time at the mic.

The show began with a projection of Oderus fronting the band before being carried away into a time portal. The band then spends the rest of the show using their time machine to search for him, while in the process finding their new members and coming to terms with the fact that Oderus is actually dead. It’s the only way Gwar could get over the loss of their creative chief.

By the end of the show the band is jamming on their mash-up of the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” and Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died”. It’s in the latter that they start chanting: “Oderus died, died! Oderus died, died!” Suddenly I see Dave and that smile, and I feel tears behind my eyes. The purpose of the tour seems to be to show definitively that Brockie’s life’s work had meaning to many. In that regard it’s a blood-drenched success.