Photos by Laura June Kirsch, courtesy of House of Vans
I prefer my frights on the campier side, so I was in heaven at House of Vans’ heavy metal Halloween throwdown, “HalloWolfbat,” featuring Mutoid Man, Darkest Hour and GWAR.
House of Vans’ “be there early if you want to be there at all” policy ensured that the warehouse along the Williamsburg waterfront filled up early and stayed packed all night. Free beer flowed, until all that was left was White Girl Rose, a laughably incongruous offering, remedied only by the fact that by the end of the night, the mascot— a large, pink bottle of wine— emerged from the pit soaked in blood like the rest of us.
Mutoid Man kicked off the evening’s proceedings, prepping our eardrums for the onslaught to come. “Fear not mutants,” shouted frontman and guitarist Stephen Brodsky, with theatrical, rock ’n’ roll panache, later prompting the warming up crowd: “oh come on, LOUDER!” Guitar player Mike Schleibaum, lead guitar player for Darkest Hour, guested on the last song, “Gnarcissist,” which paired wailing guitars and fist-pumps with a catchy chorus: “I’m never gonna fall in love with myself.”
Darkest Hour, who came out of Washington DC over 20 years ago, played the most straight forward, no frills, kick-in-the-teeth metal set of the evening. The five piece group channeled their full attention into playing as loudly as possible, while also executing some pretty sweet hair-choreography that involved the two guitar players, bassist and singer (all save the drummer- the only lockless band member) head banging at the same time to the beat.
A few songs into the set, I was whacked hard on the head by an unidentified flying object, and looked up to find myself in the middle of a battle between a giant robot and a giant werewolf. This was the promised “visual assault” by artist Dennis McNett, the “assault” part a bit more literal than I anticipated.
A few beers in, crowded in a dark warehouse flanked by men dressed as grapes and grizzly bears, women dressed as clowns and cacti, couples dressed as cops and cave people, it was totally surreal to watch two towering cardboard monsters, painted meticulously in red and black and white, move and growl directly above our heads.
Suddenly, out of the shadows and into the crowd swarmed performers dressed in mini versions of the wolf/monster/robot costumes. All my slam dance fans out there already know that moshing is at once empowering and disembodying– a way to totally let go (f*ck yoga, am I right?)– so to do so, even half heartedly (the pit was pretty violent), to the thrashing soundtrack of Darkest Hour, while also surrounded by robots and wolves, was a deliciously wicked and weird Halloween treat.
A raucous chant of “GWAR, GWAR, GWAR” rose up from the crowd as the shock rock band stomped out on stage in full regalia. GWAR’s set started off, predictably, lampooning the election season, and Obama was the first casualty. “You may think your vote counts, but your vote doesn’t mean SHIT,” pronounced the emcee, in a garish suit and sporting a sky high pompadour. A wrestling wring set-up the set’s first gag; “To be the president you have to beat the president,” Obama shouted, before being decapitated. A neophyte when it comes to all-things-GWAR, it didn’t take me long to pick up on the fact that there was going to be blood. Lots and lots of blood. Next, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went head to head, and Trump ended up flayed and disemboweled before the song was out (not gonna lie, that was pretty satisfying). But though that match had a winner, nothing and no one was safe from the wrath of the mighty GWAR, and they powered through their set, savagely murdering at least one character a song.
Though the politically incorrect gorefest and message of hate whips a crowd into a frenzy, everyone seems to revel in the campiness and ludicrousness of it all, egged on by the deadpan, Wayne’s World inflection of the monsters themselves. “My pants won’t stay up,” complained one monster mid-set, then looking down and adding, “…I’m not even wearing pants… it’s a fucking nightmare!”
In that way, GWAR, though now comprised of none of the original members, unleashes the 15 year old boy in all of us– restless, mischievous and ready to set something on fire. They’re masters of comedic timing, if you can believe it, a tightly oiled production meant to make you gasp and laugh and scream your head off. “You know when things are bad and you turn to…” (“God?” I mouthed to my friend over whining feedback) “drugs!?” The monsters took up a chant: “We won’t respect you unless you GET HIGH,” before launching into “Nitro-Burnin’ Funny Bong” and passing around a giant version of the titular smoking device for each monster to take a hit.
Before they send a bunch of blood soaked party monsters drunkenly stumbling into the night, ears ringing, they took up one final chant– one that, in that moment, no one dared argue with, so instead we shouted along: “GWAR IS THE BEST BAND IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!”