Published Nov 01, 2010Any Canadian fan who's been paying attention to the current Guided By Voices reunion tour should know two things. First, each show's beginning is marked by the illumination of a neon light, about the size of a bristol board, that reads "The Club Is Open," a lyric from the band's Alien Lanes opener "A Salty Salute." Second, the group have decided to wholly neglect their fans north of the border. So, it was Detroit or bust to catch the '90s indie rock heroes play the shit out of what are arguably the band's five finest albums, namely Propeller, Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars.
The "club opened" at around quarter after ten, when lead singer Robert Pollard, known affectionately as "Uncle Bob," stormed in with his compadres and kicked immediately into high gear with "Exit Flagger," "Break Even," "Gold Star for Robot Boy" and "Pimple Zoo." By the second song, Guided By Voices were already in full stride, with guitarist Mitch Mitchell windmilling like Pete Townshend and Pollard careening cocksurely about the stage, swinging his mic around and doing his signature high kicks. The energy was palpable, and fans were excitedly mouthing every word, throwing every kind of kudos to the band, from devil horns and raised beers to outstretched lighters, looking to light Pollard's cigarette. "We don't do rap, we don't do disco, we don't do soft rock," Pollard claimed. "We do rock'n'roll." And they were doing it well, especially when the band played show-stoppers "Game of Pricks" and "Echos Myron" back-to-back.
Then, Pollard delivered on another of his fan-expected show tropes: drinking himself into submission. Of course, heavy drinking is one of Pollard's charms, and no one begrudges "Uncle Bob" for his misgivings, but as his age increases, so do the reasons to put down the bottle. Pollard is by no means washed up – when he's sober – but the man who began the night in fine voice and as every bit the showman fans expected him to be seemed suddenly pathetic when, after the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" in honour of his 53rd, he began stumbling around, drunkenly repeating "53 fuckin' years old." "Whatever," he kept mumbling pitifully, as he and the band got sloppier, and the audience less enthralled.
As the face of Guided By Voices, Robert Pollard will always be remembered for his far-reaching influence, his prolific and excellent musical output, and his kick-ass live theatrics, but part of leaving behind a legacy is going out with a bang. In the band's two-encore, booze-infused reveling, he temporarily forgot that.