Bad Habits

On a cool, clear Friday night in early February, about a hundred people are packed into the Casa Blanca Lounge on Van Buren Street in downtown Phoenix. Many of them have come for "communion" with local punk/thrash quartet NunZilla. But the "nuns" here aren't anything like the ones who rapped your knuckles with rulers in Catholic school, and this communion is more like an anarchistic tent revival.

Onstage, the female members of NunZilla wear nun's habits, while the drummer (the group's only male) rocks out in a priest's frock. A video projector displays a collage of cartoonish nun art on the wall behind them, complete with images of nuns leveling cities with laser beams that shoot from their eyes and sexy nuns in red miniskirts holding machine guns.

The band's "mascots" — three large, blow-up Godzilla dolls — are being molested by the crowd. People hump them, dance with them, kick them, punch them, put clothes on them, ride them, beat each other over the heads with them, put them together in lewd positions, throw them on the stage. It's like some warped version of Disneyland for drunken adults.

While the nuns are screaming red-faced through one of their many two-minute tunes, like "Eat Shit and Die," the smoke machine onstage goes out of control, blasting out a thick, white cloud that quickly consumes the band until all the audience can see are green and blue stage lights glowing somewhere in the fog and the occasional blow-up dinosaur flying back out into the fray.

The show is interactive, with drunken audience members jumping up onstage, knocking over band members' beers and mic stands, and falling over the amplifiers. There's a "pit" in front of the stage, but the mood is more goofy than violent — everybody's just dancing around, and nobody pushes, punches, or elbows anybody else. The "slams" are more like gentle nudges, and when somebody slips on some spilled beer, two guys help him up. Before bopping him over the head with a giant blow-up Godzilla doll.

NunZilla is loud, fast, and probably too obnoxious for the mainstream. It's highly unlikely that it'll be Phoenix's next "breakthrough" band, but that's not its goal. This is all about fun, about blowing up the theater of the absurd into a lowbrow three-ring circus, whether the nuns are wearing creepy clear-plastic bank robber masks or standing on 10-foot-tall boxes in extra-long robes to appear as though they're levitating near the ceiling.

The congregation flocks to NunZilla for the crazy experience and to have a good time. The band's built a following on the strength of its smoke-and-mirrors live shows (and its MySpace page), leaving many fans wondering when the first NunZilla record — completed in February — will be released. The band says that'll happen in the next month or so. In the meantime, they're tending to their surprisingly regular lives and ordinary day jobs, and gearing up for their performance at the "Zombie Ball" in Tempe, a music and fetish event slated to take place the day before Easter in honor of "Zombie Jesus" rising from the dead.

The members of NunZilla swear they aren't out to be blatantly blasphemous. But two of the four members do have backgrounds in Catholicism, something that seeps into their stories — and their attitudes — about being in a band that makes the Catholic clergy look like a bunch of cartoon characters.

"We can have a gimmick, and that's what we have, but it's only intentional in the sense that we thought it was funny," says NunZilla's Sister Kenyattasaurus Rex. "But it's one thing to have a gimmick and totally suck. And me, personally, I don't think we suck. I thought we could back up our gimmick."

"It was the idea of the theatrics and the stage show, shit that you don't see around that makes us laugh," she continues. "And if everybody else is laughing, great, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter."

"We're just having fun," adds bandmate Sister T-Raptor. "What else are we going to do? Sit home and watch TV?"

The members of NunZilla — Sister Kenyattasaurus Rex (vocals, bass), Sister T-Raptor (guitar, bass), Sister Taryndactyl (lead guitar), and Father Stone (vocals, drums) — are characters, and they have a lot of fun being in character, too.

"There comes a time in every person's life when god calls upon them to ritualistically remove their own liver," Sister T-Raptor wrote on NunZilla's MySpace blog (www.myspace.com/nunzilla comes). "Let it be known that while my body lies here in Applebee's bathroom full of riblettes and those little cheese thingies, but empty of a liver; the rest of me is in a better place and surrounded by the spirit of the lord . . . P.S. You fucking cremate me and I'm going poltergeist on your ass."