Warning - The follow review contains subject matter that will not be easily digested by most!
Toronto, Canada - It was a year ago (less 2 weeks) that I got my first taste of the live concert insanity known as GWAR. I had known of the band since their inception in the mid-1980s. I was aware of the seeming on-stage madness that ensues at one of their live concert events, but no "knowledge" would ever compete with the actual experience I had on that night last year on November 2, 2022.
One thing concerned me that night 1 year ago. That was, why had I never taken the time to see these guys live?? It's a bit of a theme I find myself wondering over the past year and a half. There is so much amazing entertainment out there. Of course, we can't see all of it, but it's certain that we should be putting some time aside for ourselves to enjoy some of the finer things.
Based on last year's spectacle, it was a no-brainer to get out to see GWAR's "Age of Imbeciles Tour" 2023 with "Christian" soldiers Cancer Christ, and Toronto's own Blood Opera at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto. Coincidentally, this is one of my favourite venues in the city to photograph at. The lighting has always been superb for a photographer, especially for a smaller venue. Based on last year's show, it was definitely the right choice again. So what did the Scumdogs of the Universe have in store for Toronto in 2023? Let's take a closer look at this show!
At last year's show, something peculiar was the amount of white clothing I noticed, but foolish me! I found out immediately, the reason for the dress code. Oddly, there didn't seem to be as much white in the lineup outside the concert venue once I arrived. It didn't take away the excitement from the fans however as one dude walked down towards the end of the line, hands held high screaming out "GWAR!!!"
Once inside the venue, the buzz was immediately noticeable. There's something different with the crowd at a GWAR concert. It's almost a cult following where the members (called Bohabs) are abuzz, anxiously awaiting a blood soaking from the Extra Terrestrials about to appear on stage. Picture in your head if you will, the madmen and women that are here, awaiting this drenching. But don't be fooled! In a hilarous moment, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" plays over the PA, awaiting the first act, and the hundreds of metalheads burst out into the chorus, happily singing "Sweet Caroline... BOMP BOMP BAAAAAA". I laughed incessantly at the sound. The reality is, these amazing people are here just to have a great time.
Touted as saviors sent from Heaven, on a mission to bring the the good word of Christ to a Godless society, Los Angeles, California's Cancer Christ got the October 16th show off to a blood soaked start in Toronto. As the lights dimmed, we see a blood soaked, snake headed boy appear on stage and head behind the drum kit. Menacingly, he stood and stared out at the crowd, wiping the blood with his hand and flicking it into the crowd.
2 other snake headed members appear, tearing out pages from a bible and throwing them out to the crowd, finally to be joined by a man in a robe, seemingly in the image of Christ, joins the fray. Eventually getting into their set, the hardcore punk outfit blasts into an insane sound of heaviness. The players are intense as soon as they hit the stage, with lead singer Anthony Mehlhaff jumping off risers, and going crazy. Bassist Snakeboy (subsequently, all other members beyond the singer are named Snakeboy) jumps into the photo pit and bangs on his 4 string while getting very up close and personal with the fans crammed into the first 2 rows. And the set continues with the same insanity through its duration.
As the band's set comes to a close, a young lady in a white dress appears in the pit, a hose in her hand and Mehlhaff announces "Who has been baptized?" He jumps into the pit to join the female, and the 2 "baptize" the crowd in blood. What an insane opening act! It's completely unexpected (well, at least for anybody not knowing the band), and a really crazy start!
Canada's first (and only) Horror Metal Band (and proudly, from right here in Toronto), Blood Opera was next up. It's another band I am unfamiliar with, but I was certain the show was going to continue on with the same theme as the opening act. This realization came during the band's set-up. The absolute coolest microphone stand I have ever seen was placed centre stage. With a spine of bones as the post, a skull base, and femur bones, I can say I had never seen anything like it. And of course, with my love of horror, I simply thought to myself "Now THAT is cool!!!!".
An very moody start saw darkness fall over the stage. Smoke began to billow out and fill the area in which multiple characters appeared before us. Props of torn off limbs, decapitated heads and the like are strewn about, Headstones plank the sides. The band's lead singer appears. A living dead punk, complete with mohawk, named Maxxx Murder. A very operatic opening track highlights the vocalists range. Complete with guitar solos from the Eddy-esque RIP Junk, and great vocal melodies, the music is genre bending, mixing metal, hard rock, and electronic symphonies, leading to a disturbingly gloomy sound.
Adding to the bands sound, and prosthetic props, Maxxx Murder dons a giant penis in which he ejaculates blood into the crowd. RIP Junk chugs blood from a skull. The crowd loves it! Completely in the vein of the evening, Blood Opera was an amazing addition to the bill. With their participation in the Horror Movie and TV industries, and specific adornment by the Godfather of Zombies himself George A. Romero, this band was shocking, and are deserving of a much closer look.
By now, the crowd has had an eye-full of red! They are already splattered with blood, and the main event hasn't even started with their classic gorefest. As the lights go out, Black Sabbath's classic "War Pigs" blasts through the Concert Theatre. The fans joyously sing along through the whole song, and at it's conclusion, well.... let the carnage begin!!!
With the band's opening track "Hail, Genocide!", Sawborg Destructo appears, and the massacre begins. Almost immediately, limbs are torn, and the blood pours into the crowd. As a photographer in the pit, it's imperative to be mindful of what's happening on stage. The last thing you want is your gear subjected to a waterfall of blood. The immediacy takes me off-guard. But not the crowd. One thing is easily understood. They want to be covered in the plasma, and they want it now!
Lead singer, The Berserker Blothar, welcomes the crowd saying "Hello Montreal!" to a vast array of "Boos", but I think it's clearly a play on his "error" last year, in which he said the same thing. Difference here is that I'm certain last year was a true gaff! I smile at the apparent comedy, as I literally find myself smiling the rest of the evening. Not because it's "funny" per se, but because it's, well, fun!
Musically, the band sounds better than I recall last year. Not that last year's performance was bad in any way. It just sounded pretty great in 2023. There is some real talent here. With Pustulus Maximus guitar solos that shred, one of the security guards made point to comment on it to me at the end, stating that "These guys are not only about the show! They take the music seriously too!" And I must concur! But the show is no doubt the main attraction.
Cool blue lights flash for the intro to the band's 6th track of the evening, "Horror of Yig" and an insect like creature appears on stage. Quickly, its pincers get lopped off by the sword of Blothar, and the abdomen gets torn off, spewing glorious blue sludge into the crowd. The crowd is going absolutely crazy and bodies come piling over the security barricade as they surf to the front of the venue.
As is typical for a GWAR show, the carnage is non-stop through the band's close to 90 minute set. Various creatures get torn limb from limb, a certain President of the United States of America gets decapitated, and blood, slime and gore literally flows from the stage into the "suspecting" crowd. As the band leads into their classic track "Fuck this Place", the crowd chants the chorus. I take a look at the security at the front of the house. They are also covered on gore.
The finale on this night is the band's "hit" track "Sick of You". Truth be told, I'm so immersed in the insanity happening in front of my eyes, I totally forgot about this track. It was the first song I heard from the band back in the day, and it brings a smile. But wait, "Canada!!! We got one more for you! YOU WANT BLOOD????". With this, GWAR transition into an extremely fitting cover of AC/DC's "If You Want Blood... You Got It", and for the next 3 or 4 minutes, the band, from both sides of the stage, literally sprays blood out into the crowd, non-stop, until the show is over. You can't escape it, even if you want. These fans simply don't want to hide though.
This is so much fun. The crowd is on top of the world at the end of this one, just as they were last year. I can't quite explain it. The smiles, and the energy afterwards is unmatched to anything I have ever seen. Fans are wanting to pose for the camera and everything is a buzz.
This was a great show, with a fantastic lineup. All bands, of the same ilk creating a very fitting atmosphere, perfect for the season. What would have been better? Maybe one thing..... if it was October 31.
Show date: October 16, 2023