photography by Greg Scranton
Remember family barbecues? Remember that one just after you turned 21 and your weird uncle tried to drink you under the table? That essentially has been Robert Pollard and Guided by Voices‘ job now for the better part of two decades. The hard drinking, chain smoking band hit Toad’s Place with all intentions of drinking more than the entire club combined.
First up was the relatively sober, Speedy Ortiz. From nearby Northampton, MA, the band were the kids table to Guided By Voices’ adult table. The cute kids executed an excellent post-punk set mostly comprised of tracks from last year’s Major Arcana but some newer tracks were sprinkled in. While the band played a great set, almost immediately after finishing the crowd began chanting “GBV” or at least some incoherent combination of those letters.
The adult table was quickly filling up. A cooler filled with Miller Lite was wheeled out and placed next to Mitch Mitchell’s position; two packs of cigarettes were put atop his amp. A bottle of tequila was placed near the drum kit for Robert Pollard’s enjoyment. The chants got a little louder. Robert Pollard arrived on stage with grandeur until he found a microphone on a mic stand. He looked at it as your weird uncle would any item that was described as “vegan.” He shooed it away with his hands and immediately his minions ran out and took it away, giving him his sanctioned mic. Within a few songs into the set he had already broken his mic by swinging it by its chord either too often or too hard or both so he was given back the original which he shunned.
As the set wore on and the drinking increased, drunk uncle was sure to say something. Slurring his speech slightly, Pollard remarked “I’m a 56 year old man. I put out six albums in the past two years and I’m kicking your ass right now.” Even in a drunken stupor, Pollard wasn’t telling lies. The band ripped through a set list big enough to fit on a poster board. Marking the 20th anniversary of their seminal Bee Thousand record, the band played a good amount of the album mixed between tracks from the past two year’s hefty catalog along with some old favorites.
While the crowd drank and drank heavily, Pollard wasn’t satisfied until the city cried uncle. He ran around handing out Miller Lites to drunkies who placed their empty bottles on stage. As Pollard handed them out he remarked, “don’t give those to any minors” and “if you were my kids I could give this to you. You can drink with your kids and you should. Teach your kids how to drink!” Unsurprisingly an ambulance and police officers stationed outside the club were mighty busy post-show.
Pollard recalled headlining Matador Records’ 21st anniversary party: “we played last because no one wants to play after the mighty mighty Guided by Voices.” It is no wonder why. After two encores, Pollard and the boys did not even have the heart to leave stage before playing the third and final encore. Pollard told a story about the first time his then 12-year-old son went to see the band. He saw the set list which included four encores and asked “daddy, how do you know you’ll get an encore?” Pollard recalls he looked at his son and said “oh, we’re gonna get an encore sonny.” The encore set list ended with a final drunk and rowdy sing along to “Exit Flagger” from 1992’s Propeller. Guided by Voices walked off stage in a cloud of smoke with drunken cheers, slightly better than your uncle made out in a cloud of shame and stern talking to from your mother.