As previously reported on Dangerous Minds, Guided By Voices have once again called it a day. Leader Robert Pollard surprisingly agreed to reform the so-called “classic line-up” of GBV for Matador’s 21s birthday party in 2010, which snowballed into a successful reunion tour, a wealth of new and stellar material, as well as continued live dates. They played their final show on September 13th in Toledo. I was there.
As with most GBV performances, it was jubilant affair, with rock star poses and an audience so enrapt and caught in the moment you’d swear this was Sunday mass. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many smiling faces that looked to be roughly the same age I was when I first became a fan after hearing Bee Thousand 20 summers ago.
The final set-list.
They played a surprisingly short set and afterwards there were murmurs that what we had just witnessed was their last gig. Days later, two more show were announced and it seemed that it was all just hearsay.
When a band you love breaks up it’s always a bit sad; it feels like a death and all the clichés apply: Nothing lasts forever, at least we still have the music, the memories, blah, blah, blah. Of course, GBV fans have been through this before, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. Guided By Voices made extraordinary music and they managed to bottle the magic all over again, but now—for whatever reasons—it’s over. Thankfully, someone captured the final moment and the entire set is available online. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell is absolutely on fire, and I can’t help but wonder if he knew this would be the last time.
Fans of that great Dayton, OH indie band Guided By Voices have been greeted with a rather startling and not terribly informative goodbye on the band’s tour date page:
Guided By Voices has come to an end. With 4 years of great shows and six killer albums, it was a hell of a comeback run. The remaining shows in the next two months are unfortunately canceled. Our sincere apologies to those that have purchased tickets and made travel plans. Thanks to everyone who has supported GBV.
The band’s classic lineup from the 1993-‘96 era reunited in 2010, and immediately set about becoming as insanely prolific as they were the first time around. 2014 alone saw two full length releases, Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet. The band’s fall tour would have kicked off in Portland, OR next week. Given the number of incarnations the band has been through, though, it hardly seems out of the question that one of the 1998-2005 lineups could be resurrected if Doug Gillard could be tempted away from Nada Surf.
Here’s one of the band’s last songs (unless/until singer Robert Pollard gets a wild hair up his ass to do it again…), “Planet Score” from Motivational Jumpsuit.
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Guided By Voices’ lo-fi indie classic Bee Thousand, and the popular Delaware-based microbrewery Dogfish Head is celebrating with the release of “Beer Thousand.”
Released on June 21, 1994, Bee Thousand was the last album GBV recorded for the Cleveland, OH (later, St. Louis, MO) based indie label Scat Records, before moving on to chug from bigger kegs on Matador Records for Alien Lanes. The album remains one of the band’s most lauded efforts, and was named the greatest indie album of all time by Amazon’s editors in 2009. It’s typical of most of the band’s output at the time, characterized by brilliantly addled little fragments of songs, brief and luminous glimpses of British-invasion inspired pop.
Just as Dogfish Head has always brewed the beers we want to drink instead of bending toward trends and tradition, Guided by Voices has always made the music they want to listen to.
“We’re only making records for ourselves,” GBV frontman Robert Pollard says, “I’m going to put exactly what I want on them.”
To celebrate that independent spirit and the 20th anniversary of the band’s classic album Bee Thousand, Dogfish Head has brewed BEER Thousand. This imperial lager, chosen to echo the copious amounts of lager that fueled GBV’s garage recordings, is brewed with 10 grains and 10 hop varieties, and clocks in at 10% ABV.
10x10x10 = BEER Thousand.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” says Pollard. “But I’ll drink to that.”
10% ABV! Because who needs to remember stuff, really? The beer won’t be released to the public until early autumn, so if you’re in one of the 30 states they sell in, you have that to look forward to. While you wait, enjoy these clips of GBV’s hometown (Dayton by God Ohio) show from the same year as Bee Thousand’s release. Some of this material can be found on GBV vocalist Bob Pollard’s wonderfully-titled DVD The Devil Went Home and Puked
Ohio’s semilegendary art-punk band Death of Samantha surely enjoyed one of the greatest debut gigs in history. In the early 1980s, teenaged clarinetist/guitarist/singer John Petkovic was sporadically employed at a family-style steakhouse called The Ground Round in the cultural dead zone of Parma, Ohio—then and still the New Jersey to Cleveland’s Lower Manhattan. His boss was a wiseass, always snarking at John about when his young, incompetent, only-just-barely-extant band was going to play at the restaurant. When that manager went on vacation, the assistant manager, who had overheard those exchanges and was apparently unable to parse sarcasm, actually booked the band. Per Petkovic, from a recent in-person interview that was totally fun to transcribe because he was munching on goddamn popcorn the whole night:
We didn’t have any songs, we didn’t have a name, but the assistant manager said there was an opening on wing night. So we brought down our amps and a P.A., and it was insane, whose band would do this to play the Ground Round? And at first, we thought people would actually be into it. So we needed a name, for the marquee, where it would usually say “BURGER NIGHT $4.99,” and [drummer] Steve-O mentioned “Death of Samantha.” I didn’t even know it was a Yoko Ono song, but I thought it would be cool, where it says “POPPERS AND ZUCCHINI $2.99” it would also say “MUSIC BY DEATH OF SAMANTHA.” So we set up, and people were coming in asking “what is this music by Death of Samantha, what is that?” and we thought they were asking about us because they were really into it! They were more like appalled! They fuckin’ HATED IT. People started winging baskets of popcorn around, throwing chicken wings at us, people were yelling “these guys suck, this is awful, this is terrible, we came here to eat!” People were refusing to pay, and the waitresses were screaming at us “Stop! They all want their money back!” Anyways, the place cleared out. It was embarrassing, but our bass player Dave James had a zine “Negative Print,” and he wrote about it. People thought it was a joke, but that fanzine was getting around. So people started calling us about shows. We had this credibility because I got fired for all that, so when we got our first real show there was a ton of people there.
From their beginnings as inciters of suburbanite riots, DoS went on to become a pretty big deal in the ‘80s midwestern rock subterra. The trio added lead guitarist Doug Gillard, and after the requisite handful of locally-pressed singles, they hooked up with Homestead Records—home to heavy hitters like Nick Cave, Big Black and Sonic Youth—for the albums Strungout on Jargon, the particularly brilliant Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants, and Come All Ye Faithless, and the essential E.P. Laughing In The Face Of A Dead Man. (All are out of print now, so prepare to dig deep.) The band convincingly and compellingly crossbred post-punk defiance and hardcore sneer with the fearless glam strut of Roxy Music, the exploratory meanderings of Television, and uncommonly literate lyrics. Concerts were a showcase for a preposterous low-budget-Tubes showmanship that emphasized Petkovic’s brutal wit and unstoppable mouth, and Steve-O’s flair for the ridiculous—the chubby, muttonchopped drummer was often ceremoniously borne to the stage in a coffin, from which he would emerge dressed as Vegas Elvis. The band would then launch into 40 some odd minutes of a beautifully shambolic rock that didn’t care what genre it was purloining at any given moment, and mocked you if you DID care. They were fucking magnificent.
Also, they inspired one of my favorite useless Robert Christgau reviews ever—here, in a review of the Wailing Ultimate compilation, he posits an imaginary conversation between John Petkovic and his mom:
As long as you don’t take the hooks too literally—believe me, there aren’t many more where they come from—this is a pretty fair introduction to garage postnihilism, a surprisingly palatable mix of musical and sociological interest. Just like the grooveful laborers on a reggae or hardcore compilation, Gerry’s kids hold together for the kind of continuous listen most local/label samplers can’t sustain. In fact, only their fans and their mothers could tell most of these fourteen bands apart without a scorecard, and I’m not so sure about their mothers. Mrs. Petkovic: “I liked that song you did about the well.” John P.: “How could that be ours, mama? A girl sings it.” Mrs. P.: “Isn’t Samantha a girl?” John P.: “Ma, we’re called Death of Samantha—Death of Samantha.” Mrs. P.: “Oh Johnny, she’s not really dead. That’s just, what do you call it, poetic license, right?” B+
But by the dawn of the ‘90s, just as bands like DoS were starting to get taken more seriously by bigger labels, if not yet radio, the familiar pressures of a lot of work in exchange for going nowhere pulled the band apart. A few years later, Gillard, Petkovic and later member Dave Swanson (now of Chamber Strings) reunited in Cobra Verde, and all three served time in Guided By Voices, though Gillard had the longest and most edifying tenure in that band. Gillard later joined up with Nada Surf, and Petkovic formed Sweet Apple with J. Mascis. But now seems to be the time for bands of that era to reunite, and the bug bit DoS practically at random. Petkovic again:
I had to go buy a pack of cigarettes, and Dave James was working over there—we’d been working like 1,000 feet from each other for ten years and never seen each other—and I saw some guy smoking, I thought I’d try to bum one off of him, and it was Dave. Doug had been in town the week before, and we talked about doing something musically again, and I told Dave the Beachland [concert club] kept bugging us to do a DoS show, and I didn’t think it made any sense, but Dave said “Sure it does, I’d do it.”
And that why-the-hell-not approach has led the band to not just a welcome reactivation, but to the most interesting album of its career. In rehearsing for their comeback show, DoS held their final practice at a recording studio. The engineer suggested running a recording of the practice, and the band said why the hell not. Those recordings are now the 2XLP If Memory Serves Us Well. Its liner notes contain reminiscences from Byron Coley, Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, and GBV’s Bob Pollard, and though it offers no new songs, it reveals their transformation over time in other ways. The band has become looser, and far more free. Two and a half decades spent in touring bands have definitely done wonders for Petkovic and Gillard’s guitar playing (and Doug was a hotshot to begin with), and James and Steve-O as a rhythm section have found a very deep pocket, giving the two guitarists a hell of a lot of room to explore the spaces around one another. There were always some lengthier explorations mixed in with Death of Samantha’s general spikiness, but it feels like they’re engaging more with that sort of thing now, and they’re a ton better at it.
Death of Samantha had an NYC show scheduled in 1990, but their breakup came before it happened. Their next show, fittingly, is at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Thursday, May 29. Here are some tastes of what you might expect to see and hear.
The author of this piece would like to thank Boy George for releasing a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Death of Samantha” in time to make web searches for this story kind of irritating to sift through. That being said, his version actually IS kind of awesome.
Ohio rock god Robert Pollard is primarily known for two things: writing roughly one rock ditty per day and consuming appalling amounts of brewski during every Guided by Voices gig. Not as well known is that Pollard was once an ass-kicking baseball hurler for Wright State University in his hometown of Dayton—indeed, one time he threw a no-hitter, made the newspapers and everything!
The date was presumably May 11, 1978, the opponents Indiana Central. The score was 9-1. It was the first no-hitter in the history of the Wright State baseball program.
Magnet Magazine‘s Matt Hickey caught up with Pollard and ran him through a brief no-hitter catechism. Amusingly, Pollard (quite credibly) claims that he didn’t realize he had a no-hitter going until his teammates mobbed him after the final strikeout. Furthermore, his dad recently tabulated Pollard’s finest pitching performances stretching back to childhood, apparently he had 12 no-hitters over the years! We’ll want to get a fact-check on that pronto!
Magnet also found time to mention that GBV has a record coming out on February 18 called Motivational Jumpsuit.
I’ve known for years that Pollard is a closet jock. Pollard and I have friends in common, most notably his former bandmate and current Cobra Verde frontman John Petkovic. I can’t believe that this interview is still online (enjoy the ridiculous 1998-ish HTML!), but here’s a lengthy sports-obsessed interview with Pollard and Petkovic conducted by “Chin Music” (whatever that is). Based on the references to Marquis Grissom and Paul Assenmacher, I’d put this interview right after the 1997 season, but I could be wrong.
Robert Pollard: So the singer’s the pitcher?
Chin Music: Yeah, like Johnny Rotten, or even Mick Jagger.
RP: Well I did have a live arm. In college I had a 95 mph fastball.
CM: (incredulously) Oh c’mon! 95 mph? Oh, cut it out.
RP: Really, I could throw a football 70 yards. A baseball 95 miles an hour. Honestly, my dad thought I had a golden arm. He used to milk it down every night like (in crusty old Burgess Meredith voice) “You got the golden arm…” (much laughs all around) That’s why he was so disappointed when I went into rock. He was like “Ya’ bleeeww it!...Ya’ had a golden arm, but YA’ BLEW IT!!!”
(big laughter action)
CM: ...But did you have a breaking ball?
RP: Seriously, I did throw 95 miles an hour in my senior year in high school, and in my summer of Legion ball I popped a tendon in my elbow, but I still continued to pitch in college, for Wright State in Dayton. I threw a no-hitter at Wright State. I never threw as hard, I bet I threw only 85-88. I used to warm up before games—my brother used to catch me, he’s five years younger than me—and I warmed up with a croquet ball.
CM: (laughs) That’s a mean thing to do to a little brother!
It goes on from there at some length.
A cursory search of the Internet yielded this obscure GBV song about baseball, appropriately titled “Look, It’s Baseball”:
GBVDB.com, one of the single most informative Guided By Voices fan sites online, has now been operating for ten years. In celebration, they’ve posted a GBV concert from the band’s Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes period, recorded at the still-extant Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge MA.
The band played alot of songs off the yet to be released Alien Lanes album that Bob mentions was going to be released in January 1995 on Matador. Alien Lanes didn’t end up getting released until 4/4/95. This show also confirms that the 11/2/94 show that was previously thought to be CBGB’s in NY was actually Providence, RI as Bob says “We were in Rhode Island last night. In Providence” during the 11/3/94 show. This show was recorded by Michael Train on a Sony D7 handheld DAT and a Sony external mic. The show was later put on CD using the D7 analog outs into a Marantz CD reecorder. These AAC files were ripped from the CD and are the current best source for this show.