Guided by Voices
St. Louis, MO
Picture a typical concert venue transformed into something straight out of the 1920s. Men in suits look at you and say, “Welcome to ‘Speakeasy’. Have a good time tonight.” Women dressed as flappers nod and wink.You wonder for a second if you’re in a jazz-age timewarp instead of the Guided by Voices farewell tour, but sheer curiosity keeps you engaged.
In the corner, a band called the Urban Jazz Naturals plays a swinging mix of trumpet and guitar riffs that has the audience equal parts perplexed and dance-happy. Velvet couches are in abundance, and people lounge on them, sipping a variety of beverages. An elderly woman named Dixie deals blackjack to several players.Three women dance seductively to classy music piped in from overhead. DJ Steve-O (no, not the guy from Jackass) spins for a half an hour or so, and a mix of suits and youthful hipsters shake it on the floor, unsure of what else to do. Despite this being touted as a rock show, there’s little rock to be found. But no one seems terribly fazed.
Then things start to fall into place. A large screen comes alive, playing a cheesy classical version of “Window of My World,” the catchiest song from GbV’s final album, Half Smiles of the Decomposed. Pictures of a much younger version of the band are juxtaposed with nature scenes. It’s like something straight out of a high school graduation montage. Finally, the curtains part, and there he is, Robert Pollard, the man responsible for 21 years of GbV. He’s clad in a pair of stunning plaid pants and his typical button-down shirt, his bright gray hair clipped short. The Cuervo is passed around and suddenly everyone is amplified to rock.
As the set progresses, the band plays a lot of obscure material from various EPs, several unreleased songs, a few of the favorites, and five or six tunes from the new album. Tequila and beer are plentiful, and the alcohol has an obvious effect on the band. Pollard rambles about everything from his station in life (“I’m rock ‘n’ roll Bob!”) to the pending end of a drunken legacy (“We’re not coming around these parts ever again. If you’re not here tonight, fuck you.”)
Before the evening comes to an end, the band returns to the stage for the single-song encore of “I Am a Scientist.” The night has been anything but pat – less a Guided by Voices show than some weirdo retro spectacle. Entertaining? Yes. Bizarre? Certainly. And yet, it somehow feels right ending this way. And Pollard himself would probably agree, if the last words of the final song serve as any indication:
“Everything fades from sight/ Because that’s all right with me.”