Guided By Voices

by Adam Williams

21 December 2004


Guided By Voices

The End of an Era…

Guided By Voices

31 Dec 1969: Irving Plaza — New York

It will be many years before the musical universe is graced again by a presence of Bob Pollard’s magnitude. During his twenty year tenure at the helm of GBV, Pollard distinguished himself as a brilliant lyricist and an unapologetic anti-rock star. He was the crazed (albeit endearing) party crashing uncle and we loved him for it.

Pollard infused expert songwriting with unquestioned passion and a brewery’s worth of flowing beer. He thus became the preeminent face of the indie world. Forget U2 and REM, they became inflated by their sense of self-importance long ago. Pollard never lunched with the Pope or tried to solve global problems. He never compromised his integrity.

To his legions of fans, Pollard became more than simply a prolific and charismatic performer; he was an iconic figure, part messiah, part mad scientist, a figure held in fanatically high regard. And he did it all without big industry support or mainstream radio airplay; the true sign of greatness. Bob Pollard was the voice that guided the masses, and the mark he leaves will only grow larger with his absence…

So the curtain falls…

Three consecutive nights, nine hours of music and drunken revelry, and a lifetime’s worth of happy memories… That’s how Guided By Voices said goodbye to New York City.

Opening with a tongue-in-cheek, on-screen farewell montage of photos from GBV’s lengthy career, each show was a magnificent going away party. Each night, the grand maestro led his band of traveling minstrels through non-stop two hour sets and one hour encores.

Watching Pollard behind the microphone was something to behold. He drank and sang, then drank and sang some more, culling songs from a bottomless trove of greatest hits, old favorites, and lost classics. There were jokes, intoxicated rants, jump kicks, microphone twirls, and a ceaseless supply of booze; enough of each to replace the lingering sense of sadness with jubilation.

The set lists changed night to night, but the band’s commitment remained the same; those fortunate to attend all three evenings were treated to an amazing first show, it’s true, but even better performances on Saturday and Sunday.

There were many highlights, but the most memorable came during the second gig, as Pollard shared the stage with his brother for a moving rendition of “Salisbury Hill.” If everyone wasn’t so caught up in the exuberance of the moment, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house.

Yet watching as Pollard high-fived and handed out beer to the audience, it became obvious that the man’s creative talents are far overshadowed by other qualities. He is a middle-aged kid, living a dream on his own terms.

The consummate regular guy, Pollard is us and we are him, and that’s what makes GBV special. Pollard is a man of the people and GBV, a band for the people. Of the hundreds of acts I can recall seeing on stage, I have never seen a musician and his audience reciprocate such affection and admiration. As such, the New York trifecta ranks as three of the greatest shows I have been fortunate enough to attend—up alongside outings by The Who and AC/DC.

Now, Bob Pollard closes 2004 by putting Guided By Voices to rest, leaving us a staggering catalogue of music to enjoy and reminisce with. Let’s hope that retirement and life as a quiet suburbanite becomes excruciatingly boring. Then, Pollard might be inclined to appear again on record and stage in the very near future. Speaking for all GBV disciples, I’m hopeful that his hiatus is a brief one, as he is that important, and he is that good.

And with that ladies and gentlemen: Elvis has left the building…

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