“I promise to leave you ”
Guided By Voices reached an end as unexpected as their arrival. Laboring away unnoticed for nearly a decade they appeared to emerge fully formed and from out of nowhere. In the rapturous acclaim that followed nowhere was established as Dayton, Ohio and the formation of the group was revealed to be a fluidly fluctuating roster around the fixed center of an oft-faded captain. The story of Guided By Voices quickly became the saga of Robert Pollard and the improbable reclamation of his rock and role fantasy at the onset of middle-age. That great coup over the status quo only further stimulated Pollard’s already legendary productivity and in the deluge of albums and appearances that followed he and his band became an accepted and expected presence. It was with some suddenness then that Pollard announced last call for Guided By Voices amid a set on a spring evening in New York.
“So throw the switch, it’s rock and roll time!”
Documenting the final four hours of the band as they play their last show ever on New Year’s Eve 2004 in Chicago, The Electrifying Conclusion serves as both testament and tribute to this casually monumental career. Directed by Matt Monsoor, the film captures the band at their shambolic and bloated best while inobtrusively maintaining an atmosphere of sentimentality befitting such a sendoff. While appeal may be limited to fans of the band or the man behind it, this is a superb concert film elegantly intertwining onstage antics with images from an emotional and adoring audience.
“We’ll be middle-aged children but so what!”
As their live reputation evolved from impressive to imposing, Guided By Voices settled into sets of 40 to 50 songs. This being their final show, that average is padded out to 63 songs. Fan favorites abound along with newer material and older songs exhumed especially for the final tour. Opening with the first track from their breakthrough record Propeller and closing appropriately enough with “Don’t Stop Now”, the ample set list serves as a thorough overview and fitting farewell.
With abandon appropriate of finality, the band attacks every song. Drummer Kevin March is relentlessly flawless even when overplaying the fills on “Smothered in Hugs”. The dual guitars of Doug Gillard and Nate Farley hit hard with heavy-handed heft. Gillard even earns the ridiculous ringmaster’s hat and jacket he wore for the occasion by keeping locked in on March even after Farley drinks beyond any ability to play. Farley remains nevertheless endearing with his good-natured goofiness and obvious ebullience. Chris Slusarenko also brings an incredible amount of energy to the stage, hammering away at his bass and even dancing.
Supplementing this cast is an array of former members and friends. Mop-haired Beatle Bob introduces the band and appears again to reprise his idiosyncratic dance from the video for “My Kind of Soldier”. Fellow Ohio resident and record store-owner Trader Vic mans an on-stage bar servicing the needs of primarily Pollard. Greg Demos spins and thrashes his way back into memory as the band’s most notorious bass player while Jon Wurster of Superchunk sits in on drums and races “I Am a Tree” into a punk rock frenzy.
Most notable though are the numerous appearances of Tobin Sprout. While Guided By Voices was always unquestionably Pollard’s, Sprout maintained a readily identifiable impact during his time with the band. He and Pollard harmonize through the transcendent “14 Cheerleader Coldfront” and Sprout turns up sporadically thereafter with backing vocals or relieving Farley of his guitar.
“I am getting old, aren’t I?”
As entertaining as these appearances are, the show belongs to Pollard. Walking up from the rock room to take the stage he looks tired and resigned. Soon enough his soaring melodies have him whirling around the microphone and hopping into high kicks. Still those kicks don’t come as easily as they once did and they certainly don’t come as frequently. Already gone grey, Pollard also suffers from unflattering camera angles that only accentuate his expanding beer belly.
“I get a contact buzz ”
Even as age impairs the physicality of Pollard’s performance, his heavy drinking continues on infamously as ever. Just slightly less smashed than Farley, he somehow manages to keep mostly on key and in time. First his speech and then his singing slurs but he rarely sacrifices a song. Pollard even shows some restraint by pouring out beers to the audience and turning down tequila shots once he catches himself “getting ready to get too fucked up”.
Pollard also makes an effort to refrain from his customary intoxicated tirades. After boasting that fans were selling their tickets for the Pixies on eBay to see him instead, he concedes that may be he “shouldn’t talk too fucking much”. He can’t quite curb his cockiness completely though and takes aim at old grudges and assorted detractors. He also offers praise acknowledging members, labels, friends, and fans with thanks. In one self-effacing moment he even talks about making amends with prior rivals humorously noting, “You start getting older, you start losing your ass, you start making up with people.”
“The mosh pit is filled with memorabilia.”
From the incredibly generous set list to the prodigious drinking, the devoted in attendance absorb it all with reverent glee. The film is full of fans screaming, singing, and smiling along to every song. Anthems like “Alone, Stinking, and Unafraid” turn the audience into a sea of shaking fists while “Exit Flagger” opens up a jubilant pogo pit. These scenes from the crowd capture the essence of that evening as a wake for all those who held the band dear.
“Film finished, fade into black.”
True to other Plexifilm releases, the DVD is exquisitely packaged and sequenced. Artwork and menus evoke the style of Pollard’s own collages while offering convenient cuing for each track. Bonus footage from an earlier gig in 1994 is crude but serves as a good measure of just how far Pollard progressed with the band as both a writer and performer. Clips of Pollard recording demos for his final album with Guided By Voices offer another perspective on the performance showing how his songs take shape. The main event itself is beautifully framed, opening with the crowd lining up and entering the venue to “Don’t Stop Now” and ending with still shots from the show over “Huffman Prairie Flying Field”. There are even some scenes from the aftermath as Pollard and the other band members get smothered in hugs backstage while a lone fan kicks through the debris over the venue floor looking understandably at a loss. For that fan and so many others, The Electrifying Conclusion is an outstanding memorial for a dearly departed band whose absence is already lamented.