For GWAR, touring is an exercise in managed chaos | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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For GWAR, touring is an exercise in managed chaos

“We’re always coming up with new solutions to try to streamline. If a costume piece repeatedly breaks, we try to re-engineer it.”


To watch the costumed members of GWAR stalk the stage amid sprays of goo and gore, adorned in ghastly regalia, it’s easy to get the impression that utter chaos holds sway. In reality, it’s more like carefully managed chaos. In the band’s 30-plus years of performance, GWAR has honed its unwieldy, singular stage show — a cartoonish marriage of heavy metal and pro-wrestling theatrics often labeled “shock rock”— through a combination of clever engineering, practical effects and good old-fashioned showmanship.

“For us, it’s always been about the art and the production and the show. I think that everybody has an understanding that all these small but important parts make an even greater whole,” says guitarist Brent Purgason, who has performed as Pustulus Maximus since 2012, when he formally took the place of the late Corey Smoot, a.k.a. Flattus Maximus.

Having grown close to the band in its home scene of Richmond, Va., Purgason knew that membership included duties that went beyond those associated with more traditional bands. “For us it’s like, you know, cases upon cases and monsters and costume changes and lots of guitars and, of course, you’ve got the wet factor, everything is going to be covered in liquid at some point in time, so we’ve got to always be prepared for that,” says Purgason.

Preparatory methods have been developed through decades of trial and error. “Like in any other trade, you’re going to learn something new every day, even if you’ve been doing it for 10, 20, 30 years. So, we’re always coming up with new solutions to try to streamline. If a costume piece repeatedly breaks, we try to re-engineer it,” he says.

The band members take a similar approach to their equipment. “We’re trying to make things super redundant, so, if something breaks, it’s not a huge involved process to swap it out with something that works,” Purgason says. “There’s actually no signal-carrying cables that go on the floor, period. Everything is wireless. Everything is remotely controlled.”

With so many moving parts, though, things inevitably go wrong. When this happens, cooler heads must prevail. “We are our own crew,” he says. “If an amp goes down or a spew-hose busts in the middle of the show, you know, we’re the ones fixing it. I’ve actually gone behind the scenes and taken my costume apart or off and reached my hand in a piece of equipment to get something fixed.”

The rotating collective of artists and musicians who build and create GWAR’s unique costumes, write the songs and scripts, and block and perform in the stage show, call themselves Slave Pit Inc. It’s hard work, but the band’s longevity speaks to the rewards. “Even though it’s a rock band, it’s still, at its core, an art collective, an artist community. I think that keeps us more normalized and more humble than anything else. We’re not rich,” he says. “It’s just about the art.”

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