Wasted: Guided By Voices Keep Playing

Pollard and friendGuided By Voices

The Intersection, Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 26, 2003

We took our seats as the opening act was setting up. The Intersection is a nice little venue with a well-stocked bar and a relaxed atmosphere. Not the cozy old shithole it was before relocating, but still a good place to see a show. My pal Ivan ordered a well-deserved Guinness, while I, recovering old drunk that I am, made do with Diet Coke. We settled in among the placid crowd of a couple hundred Grand Rapids hipsters and indie kids and waited. (Ah, those perky little indie girls in their tight jeans, almost half my age…)

The All Golden from Kent, Ohio started things off, and they sounded like Love And Rockets as interpreted by Kansas. Ivan generously said they sounded like Jethro Tull.

Then my boys hit the stage. I’ve been referred to as the “Guided By Voices bitch.” It’s true. Bob Pollard and company can do little wrong in my book. I’ve been a slavering fan-boy since Bee Thousand, and their last release, the somewhat uneven Universal Truths and Cycles, did nothing to discourage my devotion. They kicked their set off as Uncle Bob, fifth of Jameson in hand, declared GBV the greatest band in the world.

“We’re better than The White Stripes!” he bellowed. The crowd wasn’t sure how to take the joke. I thought it was funny.

“We got two and a half hours of rock for you, and you’re gonna love every minute of it!”

Testify, Reverend Pollard! Testify! I am a true believer and was ready to be born again.

They started rocking. Hard. They slammed their way through some new material from the forthcoming release Earthquake Glue, and it simply rocked. If the rest of the album sounds half as good as what they played from it, it could be a real winner. Guitarist Doug Gillard can lay it down: perfect riffs played with real soul.

GBV FlyerBob and the rest of the band were in good form, too. After only a few songs (mostly new stuff), the crowd was theirs, completely. Hands were in the air, heads were thrashing, the little indie girls were bouncing up and down. Then they played some vintage material (“I Drove A Tank,” “Game Of Pricks,” “Skin Parade”) and their spell was absolute. Pollard danced, kicked and jumped, like a cross between Roger Daltrey and a demented leprechaun. He anointed the crowd with beer, laid hands on them, and declared he was doing it for the kids. One song after the other, slam-bang.

“We can play for two and a half hours cause we got two and a half hours of hits!” Bob shouted at one point, then: “My dad asked me one day: ‘Bob, what can you give to rock and roll? Can you be the best?’ And I told him ‘No.'”

“But I said as long as there’s shitty music out there, I’ll keep playing!”

Then the inevitable happened: Pollard got drunk. And I mean stinko. He had started the show spinning bottles of beer high overhead and catching them behind his back. Then he started missing them. I lost count after he’d had about a dozen, punctuated with shots of Jameson. His voice began to slur, his leaps started getting wobbly and he lost his pitch. He mangled “Everywhere With Helicopter”—the awesome song was barely recognizable.

By the end of the show Pollard was having trouble lighting his cigarettes. He wisely gave the bottle of Jameson to a member of the audience.

But they kept it going by sheer momentum. The crowd was obviously put off by Pollard’s obnoxious condition, but they weren’t ready to give up on him. And guitarist Gillard was still sober and steadily punching out the noise. By the last song, GBV had indeed gone two and a half hours, and played some great rock and roll. But the show was a microcosm of the lives of all great alcoholic artists: dizzying heights and crashing lows. And although Pollard might not have hit bottom, he got pretty damn close.

We left without waiting to see if there was going to be an encore. Even if there was, Pollard was in no shape to continue. Driving home that night, we agreed it was 75% a great show. Greatest band in the world? Who knows? When Guided By Voices are on, they’re dead on. They rocked it until the booze finally caught up with them.

At home, my ears ringing and my throat hoarse from yelling, I pondered how long Robert Pollard might have before he drinks himself to death (or into irrelevance). All I could think of were the lyrics to “How’s My Drinking?” from Isolation Drills:

How’s my drinking?
I don’t care about being sober
But I sure get around
In this town

To hell with my church bells
And leave me die
With you
I won’t change

I felt like that myself back in the old drunken days, guzzling bourbon and listening to the Replacements. My advice? Catch GBV while you can, because there’s no telling how long Bob Pollard is going to last—the man is in a class with William Holden when it comes to booze. But he puts on a hell of a good show until he’s wasted.

Also check out Johnny Loftus’ GBV piece from May 2002. You can download MP3s of a couple of new GBV songs: I’ll Replace You with Machines via gbv.com and My Kind of Soldier via Matador. There were some great photos of this show taken by Dennis and Cheryl Oshea and Joe Stopa.

32 thoughts on “Wasted: Guided By Voices Keep Playing”

  1. They have some beautiful little songs. One starts: “Sitting out on the roof, watching hardcore ufos,” and it’s real pretty. But somehow I couldn’t get into my full-length cd. All the short songs massed together have a barrage-like effect.

  2. I was at this show and remembered it somewhat differently, albeit drunkenly. I hated the venue, horrible sound with sheets of metal on the walls. Didn’t like the new songs either. I thought that the show got better as the night went on, no surprise, as I drank more. In fact, “Everywhere with Helicopter” was one of the highlights for me. I too noted the presence of whiskey on stage, something that began popping up when Nate Farley joined the band and they began the decline that they are currently riding like a locomotive to hell. I commend you for staying sober and offering up this objective review though. Going to a GbV show for a recovering alcholic must be something like visiting a crackhouse for a recovering crackhead.

  3. I saw GBV in Evanston, IL, back in January, and the experience was about the same. I think Bob was slightly less drunk, as he mostly stuck to beer and was able to catch at least the first twelve bottles he threw. He still did his fair share of twirls, kicks and ranting, though.

    At the beginning of the night, he walked onstage and introduced himself, saying, “Tonight, I am Mr. Fuck.” Later (and drunker), he started making fun of Billy Corgan for at least five minutes (I think Zwan was playing Northwestern the same night, or a few nights later). “Billy Corgan wants my rocking secret, but he can’t have it! Silly Billy! Silly Billy! B-I-L-L-Y!”

    They rocked pretty hard, too. I don’t know much of their stuff, but it was all really cool. “I am a Scientist” was a highlight for me, and they also did an impromptu (at least it seemed that way) version of David Bowie’s “Five Years” after Bob started singing the beginning lines. All in all, a hell of a three hour show.

  4. I heard that the lead singer was at one time a school teacher in Long Island and at app. 40 years old decided he wanted to front a rock band. Crazy stuff if true.

  5. He was a schoolteacher for years, but in Ohio, I believe. I think they’re from Dayton. Pollard taught third grade as his day job and did the band in his spare time. He couldn’t have started when he was 40, because that would make him over 50 now — more likely around 30. He might have quit teaching by now.

  6. pollard from long island?

    he is as ohio as one can get. a salute to tim tobias for sporting the ohio shirt. gbv was in fine form. this band is not on any sort of decline. yes, they did have a couple bad albums…collapse and iso, but those albums did produce some good songs…surgical focus, the enemy, fair touching ( i rub her legs) skills like this. As for the new material, its rocking and its solid. all the bob bashing needs to stop. this band can rock, they do rock and will continue, i have 25 shows under my belt to prove it.

  7. I can’t speak for the Grand Rapids show, however, I was in attendance the next two nights in Akron & Buffalo. Both nights were typical GBV…amazing, incredible performances filled with energy. Paul is correct….see these guys as much as possible, while you still can. Pollard is an absolute genious, and easily one of the greatest song-writers of the past 20 years. Sure, he gets a little boozy as the night goes on, but it doesn’t seem to detract from the show, at least in my opinion. As a matter of fact, it seems that most of the fans at the show enjoy getting their booze on with Bob and the boys. It’s hard to believe how these guys can put on these marathon, 50 song, 2 1/2 hour sets night after night. They also did a good job of mixing in the new stuff from the upcoming Earthquake Glue album with classics like Buzzards and Dreadful Crows and Tractor Rape Chain. Good times and highly recommended. Bravo GBV.

  8. I’m not really impressed with the two GBV discs that I own. But now that I know that they’re obnoxious drunks I think I’ll give them another listen.

    Sometimes that kind of show, with a band totally cutting loose, is a lot of fun. As long as they stick to the bottle and stay away from the smack (ala Ryan Adams).

  9. I was at the G.R. show and was matching Bob beer for beer. After a half dozen GBV shows I’ve realized that’s the optimal methodology for digging the Uncle Bob Experience. I would disagree that the concert disintegrated as the intoxication on-stage increased, except maybe my own toxic condition warped my impressions. Whatever. I loved every rocked out moment of the show! Long live GBV!!

  10. ” I would disagree that the concert disintegrated as the intoxication on-stage increased, except maybe my own toxic condition warped my impressions. Whatever. I loved every rocked out moment of the show! Long live GBV!!”

    It seemed to me the crowd started getting a little restless as Uncle Bob began screwing up. And he was REALLY slurring through ‘Everywhere With Helicopter’.

    Believe me, it was a great show and like I said, everyone should see GBV if they have the chance. Bob just plain got too hammered to really finish up with a bang.

    Also, everyone should run out and pick up ‘Earthquake Glue’ when it comes out. I know I will!

  11. By the by, saw GBV a couple of years ago and it was a rollicking, drunken marathon of beautifully concise pop glory with a great version of “Baba O’Reilly” capping the evening. Pollard claimed the Who song the best rock song ever written. Ummm, okay Bob.

  12. Man, my friend saw these guys and said they were over the top and out of control! I gotta see ’em too now!

  13. I’m sorry, but Ryan Adams is a frickin’ freak. He’s either on some kind of mood altering drug, or he needs to be. Either way he’s got swiss cheese for a brain.

    And he’s a poser.

  14. Guided By Voices (and maybe this might extend to Ryan Adams) are doing one thing right: They’re insuring they have an open invitation to come back to almost any club. Because with all those fans trying to keep up with Uncle Bob, those clubs must have a killer night. Frank Black once told the Michigan State University paper, “basically I’m a salesman for beer.” That’s what your career as a rock and roller is ultimately based on. If that is true, Guided By Voices has laid the foundation for a very long lasting career. Provided Uncle Bob doesn’t become a rock and roll casualty. Wouldn’t you kill to see him go back to math teaching, and take his umm… habits with him? He’d be the rockinest math teacher ever… for that one day.

  15. I have never had a bad time at a GBV show. It always rocks and cant wait for the next one.

    I think the article is unfair to uncle bob. after all the Indy New Years eve show was great, and bob and the boys behaved themselves and people bitched about it online later!!

    Too bad the author couldnt of met bob & co. before the show, then he could see how real and genuine they really are!

    Come on!! we got to hear The best of Jill Hives live, before anyone else!! Useless inventions kicked ass!! Thats what I want to read about.


  16. I love Guided by Voices. There’s a radio station that plays all of their albums full through. I’ve heard all of Alien Lanes, Sandbox, and Isolation Drills and they’re all fantastic. I plan on buying them, along with Universal Truths and Bee Thousand as soon as possible.

  17. “I have never had a bad time at a GBV show. It always rocks and cant wait for the next one.

    I think the article is unfair to uncle bob.”

    No, Heather, I wasn’t being unfair-just honest. For me, when Bob started getting too drunk it dragged down what was an otherwise terriffic show. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered you, but I personally found it kind of disapointing.

    I love GBV and thought the show kicked ass. But there’s no denying Uncle Bob loves the sauce, maybe a little too much.

  18. Hello Paul. I was at that show. right up front, taking photos. looks like I will be seeing them a couple more times!! woo hoo! Chicago and Indy.

    I was thrilled to hear the 10 songs they played from Earthquake Glue!! I just wanted to read more about the music.

    I think that is what fans expect,(the drunkness) he is different off stage (in my opinion) from what ive seen. No, i dont know him well personally, but have met him on several occasions.


    p.s. i have never heard of glorious noise till recently. how long has it been around and is it online only?

  19. GloNo has been around for a few years, and it’s online only.

    But soon, very soon, it will become a massive, heartless media conglomerate dedicated to grinding artists into a fine mush to increase profits. It’s the American way!

  20. It’s hurts me greatly that Tony panned Isolation Drills; I find this album to be stunningly killer rock&roll. I think Tony may need to upgrade his stereo system.

  21. Ditto, Jimmy. I love Isolation Drills. It’s the most accessible album GBV has put out, but it still rocks. I think ‘Twilight Campfighter’ and ‘The Brides Have Hit Glass’ are among my favorite GBV tunes.

  22. well, anyway….. gbv gives a longer show than any other rock band I have seen. they are still singing, drinking and rockin while other bands are going to bed….agree????

  23. Guided By Voices consistently does a 2.5 hour show and have been known to do 3.5 hours on occasion. Uncle Bob gives you your money’s worth.

    Isolation Drills is a great album with “Chasing Heather Crazy” being one of the most damn near addictive power pop tunes ever.

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