For those of us that cover music in daily detail, the headlines of the past two years have become a sad string of stories on the deceased. Without mentioning or lamenting certain, particular cases, suffice to say, the numbers of those that have fallen in this humble little world we call “the music industry” have gone far beyond what anyone would consider reasonable. It would not be okay in any circumstance, but now we have an industry that has been on the ropes for over ten years. Absent a high-profile meal ticket or a writing credit on chart-topping song, it is now harder than it has been in almost one hundred years for a working musician to make an honest living. To be clear, not talking about Learjets, massive cash advances or decadent limousine living—just trying to get by and survive. That is, quite frankly, bad enough.
Never mind when a good, hard-working person in this world dies tragically. Plucked away for seemingly no reason, with no reputation of careless behavior. Thus we enter the case of Cory Smoot, known to most as the character he played Flattus Maximus of the incomparable shock/metal band GWAR. Cory passed away overnight as the band headed towards a tour stop in Canada. Just like that. One night, he was there and playing in the band he loved since he was a teenager, the next morning, gone. GWAR, being the consummate professionals they are, wasted no time and continued on with their tour. The band cancelled just two shows (Medford and San Francisco) to head home to attend memorial services and then immediately flew straight to Los Angeles to headline Hollywood’s House of Blues. The crowd was filled with explosive energy, yet a heavy sorrow was apparent through the whole evening.
GWAR opted to immediately retire the character of Flattus Maximus following Smoot’s death (for those curious, four men played the character at various point in the band’s history before him). For this tour at least, they are now a four piece. A screen dropped in front of the stage to play an amazing montage of Smoot’s guitar solos and nimble fretwork. For a band that can honestly be called underrated because of their stage-show and costumes, Smoot might have just been the most underrated of the band. Dude could play like few people in metal can keep up with. His guitar playing was a balanced assault of technical wizardry and subtle crescendo, taking the song from “bridge” to full-on onslaught in only a couple of bars. People around the balcony area could visibly be seen in tears and the crowd started without provocation chanting, “Cory, Cory, Cory.”
The screen rose away to reveal the band’s backdrop, a massive castle with the “sleeping” World Maggot at the middle of center stage. A hooded figure in an iron mask came out; in a haunting voice he described himself as none other than Death. He offered GWAR this “castle” as their new home. The band came out with their typical ferocious energy and lead singer Oderus Urungus throttled the mic to shout, “Fuck you Death. You are a fucking asshole.” Well put Oderus. Never was a truer and more timely sentiment offered. The show’s theme revolved around GWAR’s taking hold of the castle and fighting off numerous minions that inhabited within, ultimately fighting off the World Maggot and Death (unveiled as long-time enemy Bozo Destructo in disguise).
The show’s set list largely and appropriately consisted of tracks from the band’s last decade of material—Smoot played lead guitar on War Party (2002), Beyond Hell (2004), Lust in Space (2009) and last year’s Bloody Pit of Horror. “Zombies, March,” “A Gathering of Ghouls” and “Storm is Coming” from the latter album started the show off with the band’s brutal, recent style. The Cerberus-style Jagermonster came out to be dismembered during We Kill Everything track “Jagermonsta.” One of the few other old-school favorites until the end of the set “Crack in the Egg” found the band slaughtering the insufferable Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore. After that, Urungus added a bit of levity introducing the powerhouse “Bring Back the Bomb” by quipping, “We cannot bring back Pepsi Clear and we cannot bring back Flattus Maximus, but we can ‘Bring Back the Bomb’!”
Recent single “Hail, Genocide!” delivered with infectious vocal dynamics. “Metal Metal Land” took humor, shoved it through a high-speed blender and rolled forward with make-no-excuses attitude. Urungus incited another chant of Cory’s name and took the band through a trifecta of the ultra-heavy tracks from Lust in Space, “Let Us Slay,” “Damnation Under God” and “The Uberklaw.” The set ended with four of the band’s most famous songs. The hardcore-infused “Ham on the Bone” and the ultimate intro to GWAR’s sound “The Salaminizer” ended the main set. Urungus proclaimed at the end of the latter track, “Flattus fucking Maximus lives forever,” as a snippet of “Rock and Roll Never Felt So Good” concluded the outro.
The band returned to revive—and quickly kill—the blatantly named World Maggot 2. “Maggots” was the soundtrack to World Maggot 2’s demise and “Sick of You” was the band’s last song of the night. There is really no other way this show could have ended. “Sick of You” represents much about the band that captivates fans so much. A rocking backdrop, memorable tunes, hilarious wordplay, a chorus that begs to be sung along with and a hint of counterculture cultural commentary. For those in the underground, away from the banality of our hyper glossy mainstream world, “Sick of You” is a defiant middle finger. It’s a cathartic revelation that exclaims the mainstream crapulence is far beyond tolerable, but done while laughing square in the face of all who cling to it so desperately. In the midst of the song’s galloping end, Urungus could just barely be heard stating, “Somehow we must laugh at horror.”
Again, Dave Brockie (the man forever behind Oderus Urungus the band’s most prominent persona) perfectly captured the feeling of the moment. Somehow, behind the tragedies of everyday life and the massive tragedy of Cory Smoot’s death, there has to be a way to rock a smile and crack a joke even when life deals us its shittiest hands. Horror, despair and complacence cannot be what we tolerate in our world. There is so much color and life in this world, so much outside of the cookie-cutter nonsense the media and society try to feed every man, woman and child. Cory Smoot knew it, and he spent the last decade traveling around the world in a costume as a part of a horror-inspired theatrical band. Too easily have our brothers and sisters who endlessly record and tour pass away. Too easily do we forget their sacrifice, all done for little more than the glory and joy that come with it, purely to further our entertainment. Hazards of the profession perhaps, but good men and women should not die so frivolously after so much struggle.
The show ended with Smoot’s guitar displayed under a spotlight. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was played over the house stereo and not a person left until the last words trickled out. So, in that spirt, this one’s for you, Cory. For like the other members of GWAR who don the costume every night, you are one of the few that inspires true courage in our world. None but the brave have done something amazing like you did every day.
“None But the Brave”
We come on out here, none but the brave
And then I say to myself why do I stay and stay?
Is there a reason? Hypocrisy?
But in the end I only got just what you gave to me
What’d you get? Share it with me
What’d you get? Did you get it for free?
Then it ain’t worth nothing baby
We got a deli, we got a bus
We got a lot of people throwing rocks at us
We got a tour lined up, we got a show
I got a midget following me around everywhere I go now
He says his name is Joe now, I really just don’t know now
None but the brave, why do you stay and stay?
Sad enough to make me cry, strong enough to make me die