The musical box A live music blog at lexgo.com

Jamison Land took a pay cut from truck driver to member of GWAR, but he's 'way happier'

Jamison Land took a pay cut from truck-driving job, but he's 'way happier'

Contributing Music WriterMarch 22, 2012 

GWAR's members have not just costumes but complex character mythologies.

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Geri Allen and Timeline at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville: Geri Allen is a jazz artist who favors specificity. Rather than anything resembling a career retrospective (or even an overview), this performance at the Norton Center's Weisiger Theatre featured her quartet Timeline — essentially a piano trio augmented by tap percussionist Maurice Chestnut.

    How much you took away from this concert depended on how much you bought into such a distinctive instrumental concept. One perspective had me applauding Allen's sheer creative vision. Another, however, made me wish the pianist emphasized her own musical profile more. After all, this was her ball.

    Granted, the employment of tap in a purely jazz setting is hardly new. The splendid duets of pianist McCoy Tyner (whom Allen brought to mind during some of her beefier, more modally minded runs) and tap pioneer Savion Glover (a mentor of Chestnut) are but one example. But there was precious little of Allen and Chestnut locking horns, save for some spirited exchanges in the show-opening version of Charlie Parker's Another Hair Do. Instead, Chestnut's wildly physical, but seldom musical, hoofing seemed designed more as a foil for drummer Kassa Overall.

    There were some nice contemporary references — a touch of New Orleans funk here, dashes of samba and tango there. But the broader percussive exchanges, like the ones during the show-closing Allen original Philly Joe, left the Timeline header's piano work out in the cold almost by design.

    The problem was not with the players. Bassist Kenny Davis revealed himself as a first-rate instrumentalist with a spectacular tone. Kassa Overall was a wonderfully intuitive groove merchant who regularly recalled mentor/drummer Billy Hart. And Chestnut's appealing stamina made him a solid audience favorite. But there was nowhere near enough of Allen's own playing to go around.

    Just when we thought we were getting a serious taste of her piano work — and the gliding lyricism and bold animation it contained — in marched the hoofing, jolting the show from jazz subtlety to dance spectacle.

GWAR

8 p.m. March 24 at Buster's Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $20 advance, $25 day of show. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.

Last year at this time, Jamison Land was making a living driving a truck. A hard-rock enthusiast and a Louisville native (his family moved to Lexington for a year during his early childhood), he found that venues and opportunities for full-time music employment were scarce. Then came GWAR.

The veteran Richmond, Va., metal band is heavily costumed, theatrical, satirical and, at times, topical in its music and performance. Think KISS but far more outrageous. When a vacancy in the GWAR ranks became available last August, Land — who was already friends with the other band members — got the call to join.

"I had already known the guys for maybe 10 years," said Land, who makes his Lexington debut with GWAR on Saturday at Buster's Billiards and Backroom. "It was still a pretty big deal, though.

"I had a band I was working with in Louisville for a while called The Burial. We did pretty well, but some of the guys moved away. I was driving a truck for a while after that and wasn't doing a lot of music. Then I got the call."

GWAR members don't go by their real names. Each is a specific character with a mythology that has been built on since the band formed in 1984. Among the character names, at least the ones we can print, are Oderus Urungus (still played by lead vocalist and founding member Dave Brockie), Balsac the Jaws of Death (portrayed by rhythm guitarist Mike Derks since 1988) and the role that bassist Land landed: Beefcake the Mighty.

"I've been listening to GWAR and going to GWAR shows since I was 15," Land said. "So I knew the character. But the first day, especially, I was kind of nervous. The first day, we played a big show here in Richmond (Va.). That was my first time wearing the costume, and we were doing all of these meet-and-greets. I didn't really know what to do exactly. But, hey, I can't complain because I could still be driving a truck. I'm actually making less money now, but I'm way happier."

Album titles — Scumdogs of the Universe, We Kill Everything, You're All Worthless and Weak and Lust in Space — are good indicators that GWAR is not exactly G-rated fare. Neither is one of the more extreme (but undeniably amusing) theatrical trademarks of its live show: the onstage ridicule (which extends to faux-disembowelings and beheadings) of stagehands dressed as newsmakers of the day from politics and entertainment. Simulated subjects have included Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hillary Clinton, Michael Jackson, Snooki, Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga.

"We pretty much think anything is up for us to make fun of," Land said. "That's the way it should be."

But the effect was decidedly different when death hit GWAR in very real terms last fall. In November, guitarist Cory Smoot, who had played the role of Flatus Maximus for nearly a decade, died on tour from complications of coronary artery disease. The remaining members of GWAR have since retired the Maximus character and are touring as a four-piece band (drummer Brad Roberts completes the current lineup).

"After Cory's death, we had to come together. It was awful, but we still had to make things happen. We wanted to make sure Cory's family was taken care of but we also had to make sure we didn't go out of business. We had songs to write for the next album. We had a tour to get through. We had a lot of stuff to do. But we're doing the best we can.

"We're all in good spirits. We're doing better than some bands could have done under these circumstances. That's for sure."

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