It was probably pure coincidence, but Gwar fans entering Club Rio's "21 and over" patio on Tuesday, May 25, received a stamp on their wrist that read: "Circus." The word perfectly describes the band's bong-inspired combination of trash metal riffings and goofy gore--both performed with stage props far more ridiculous than anything the members of Spinal Tap could have scratched out on a Denny's napkin.
Culturally speaking, Gwar is equal parts death metal and barbarianism mixed with mindless, midnight-movie wit. Decapitated heads and squirting blood splatter their audience with a reckless abandon not unlike the watermelon sledgehammerings of Gallagher.
As a result, Club Rio was a bit overprepared for the mayhem. The giant pillars inside the big barn were covered with plastic, just in case severed-artery blood bursts might exceed 50 feet. And like a new living-room set purchased by worrisome grandparents, even the PA and stage monitors received the complete plastic treatment.
In the crowd, Korn shirts, feather boas, eyeliner, zippered vinyl and leopard skin were the fashion statements of choice for the somewhat diverse crowd (far less heavy metal than I would've guessed). Ross Winceck, manager of Hollywood Alley, observed that an evening with Gwar has its merits.
"It's refreshing," he said. "I like people to express themselves--no matter what form. And here tonight it's a broad demographic."
That demographic did not include lounge lizards, so it's safe to say that Gwar's preshow music was a stab at comedic dichotomy. The waiting audience heard Burt Bacharach's "What's New Pussycat," Henry Mancini's "Moon River," and Johnny Mathis crooning "Chances Are." All irony aside, these selections would be the best things heard from the saran-wrapped speakers for the rest of the evening. Nonetheless, it was only minutes before the faux stoned arches that spelled GWAR came crashing down and the band and other circus "performers" proceeded to rip and tear their way through songs, necklines and guts.
Though the group's head mouthpiece was largely unintelligible and generally inane, one keen observation did erupt from the slit in his costume store monster mask: "That new Star Wars movie fuckin' sucks!" For a fleeting moment, the name "Lucas" may as well have been "Lucifer," as a red sea of gluttons for gore cheered and waved devil signs in concurrence. Soon after, the audience sold its soul to a giant toilet bowl while two G-stringed and loinclothed guitarists pranced around like cracked-out Conans.
They rocked with a sonic precision reminiscent of two high schoolers plugged into the same Peavey practice amp. I thanked God (and Randy Rhoads) for not allowing their volume knobs to reach 11.
It's no secret that Gwar's appeal is based on shock value. At this show, an Elvis impersonator was cut open, Caesarean style, and his long intestine was used as a jump rope. Fans were also pleased when the band's lead growler blew out his brains by taking a massive "hit" from a giant crack pipe. But the most shocking part of the show might have been that many attendees consider a Gwar performance to be more than mindless fun. They view it as art. One fan, Kevin Kalous, gushed like the hoses that pumped red liquid a distance of 30 feet: "I first saw them in Chicago. It's the show. You can't beat it! I don't mind getting soaked."
Meanwhile, Shana Palmer, an indie-rock enthusiast who doesn't even own a single Gwar CD, said, "I like their presentation and stories. Even though people are getting squirted with fake blood, Gwar's show is an exhibition. An art."
It seems that Kind promoters Mark Jas Tynan and Steve Kushnir will not rest until they have brought all the world's finest DJs onto their stage at Pompeii in Tempe. On Thursday, May 27--less than three weeks after a benefit appearance by trance icon Paul Oakenfold--the much-acclaimed Derrick May performed to a hyped and hypnotized crowd. The Detroit-based May is best known as the "Miles Davis of Techno" or the "Godfather," a seminal figure who pioneered techno as a new musical frontier.
Interestingly, May feels trapped by such plaudits. During a long track, he said, "Sophisticated dance music has evolved far more than techno has. At parties, promoters always throw me in the techno room, but I'm not a techno DJ. I play a variety of music from different parts of the globe. For me, it's not about techno, it's about music."
As if to prove a point, May turned off one of his three turntables, and a spinning black plate of techno music gradually slowed to a near halt. James Brown's "The Payback" came blasting out, and the dancing crowd was given a taste of undiluted soul. May then turned his back to the crowd, but only to go fishing for another platter to serve up his next tempo change. After making a selection, he looked for another, while his head bobbed to the rhythms that grew steadily faster with his intermittent pitch changes. At this point, May's jukeboxlike automations have led him to a block of house-music cuts, very beaty, big and bouncy.
Like a freight train, May's wheels of steel produced an earth-shaking vibration, and the dancers in the front row got dangerously close. The eclectic DJ was definitely heating things up, and he had nothing but help from the large mass of warm bodies and a temporary lack of AC. As a result, May had to compete for the attention of the dancers (many of them seemed to find the spinning of an industrial-size fan on Pompeii's lower level to be way cooler).
When asked about the Phoenix vibe, May replied, "It's real nice. They're good kids." With a mischievous smirk and a good-natured chuckle, he added, "Not as stupid as I thought they might be."
To go along with May's twisted compliment, Kind follower--and Detroit native--Adrianne Hilton quipped, "It's okay. It's just not diverse. There's way too much breakbeat; there should be more of everything. The vibe is okay and people mean well, but they would be way more happy if there was more diversity and culture." She added, "Derrick was holding back. The energy was good, but nothing like it is in Detroit."
For yet another dose of legendary artistry, Kind is bringing Josh Wink, Philadelphia producer/DJ extraordinaire, for a visit on Thursday, June 3. Wink is currently touring to support a new release in July, titled Profound Sounds Vol. 1. The mix CD (Ovum/Columbia) is being hyped as "non-alienating"--in other words, all genres are represented. Like May, Wink is all over the board with distinctive sounds and skills deep within house, techno, experimental, breakbeat and hip-hop.
Calling from his home in Philly, Wink declared, "I like to spin everything, but I don't know what I'm going to spin before I hit the stage. I bring a certain amount--some CDs of my own music as well as other artists, and a flight case of vinyl."
For Wink, there is no feud over vinyl vs. CDs. "I always request a professional DJ CD player to be provided at the venue. As a producer, they come in handy because it's a lot easier and cheaper to burn a CD of my latest track than it is to buy an acetate [vinyl pressing]. When I perform a DJ set at night, I like to have the option of playing a brand-new song that I composed just a few hours before. Like anything else, they [CD players] are simply tools."
Although Wink is excited about newer musical categories like trip-hop and drum and bass, he observed that a lot of it is being "bastardized" by a greedy, one-dimensional industry. "Electronic music hasn't really been accepted here in America," he emphasizes. "The radio doesn't play it unless it's by Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers or Propellerheads. Thank God for free-formatted and college radio."
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Wink said he's looking forward to Thursday's performance. "Every city in America has its own unique scene, and I prefer clubs over raves for their better sound and more control, and, needless to say, they don't get busted."
Josh Wink is scheduled to perform on Thursday, June 3, at Pompeii in Tempe, with Markus Schulz. Showtime is 10:30 p.m.
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