Guided by Voices shows in Orlando have become a circus-like event in the past four years, resembling a Gallagher show in reverse. While the onstage beer cooler (from which GBV frontman Robert Pollard knocks down cold one after cold one during their entire set) has become a staple for GBV's live show, Orlando crowds are not the norm for Pollard and company. Here in Orlando, the crowd shows their appreciation for the band by showering them with beer. Usually for the whole set. Such traditions have forced the band to dress up in outfits more appropriate for a tropical storm than a concert.
"Last time we played, we had to wear raincoats and goggles because they completely drenched us with beer," says Pollard, calling from his Dayton, Ohio, home while on break before the last string of GBV farewell shows that will end the band's 21-year run. "I hope I don't make anyone from Orlando mad, because it's fun and a good time, but it's kind of getting to be not as fun. I'm kind of hoping that, because it's our last show and we've included a lot of things from the entire catalog, they'll watch this time and listen.
"I think `Orlando fans` are starting to tell people 'Hey, these guys are letting you completely abuse them,'" Pollard continues. "I guess it's a punk-rock thing to do. We have kind of the punk ethic, but we're also somewhat serious. `Beer showers` are why we picked `Orlando`, because the fans are at least enthusiastic. They're not doing it completely out of abuse; they know the songs, they sing along."
Anyone who has followed the career of the lo-fi stalwarts and watched as they influenced countless indie-rock bands knows that picking songs from a catalog comprising 20-plus albums won't be easy. Neither is accepting the fact that, earlier this year, Pollard announced the band would call it quits after the 24-show farewell tour and this year's Half Smiles of the Decomposed album.
While Pollard, the mainstay and principal songwriter of GBV, says he thought of pulling the plug on the band at least 10 years ago, their latest release seemed like an appropriate album on which to end the band's illustrious, yet low-key, career.
But there are reasons besides a satisfying album that led to GBV's imminent demise. "One of the reasons I broke up the band was to try to be able to look at it, to see what it was," Pollard says. "I thought about the future of Guided by Voices and where it could progress after that, and I just drew a blank I didn't see any progression, I didn't see where I could take it. There's a bunch of other factors involved. Another thing is I'm tired of looking at the name and entity, and I think it just needs to be put to rest. Not only with Guided by Voices, but with other bands. There needs to be a time to end things."
While the sun may set on GBV, a new dawn is on the horizon for Pollard as a solo artist. Pollard says his upcoming record From a Compound Eye, which he hopes to release mid-2005 and which includes songs written during different eras, is yet another reason he broke up the band: "I'm really stoked about this new record; forgive me for using the word 'stoked.' I feel kind of reinvigorated starting over."
Miller Lite and tequila have replaced Budweiser and Jack Daniels during the years and the band has been through countless lineup changes, but Pollard's first true solo album, not surprisingly, doesn't fall far from the GBV tree as evidenced by the numerous solo Pollard albums recorded alongside GBV. However, the only sidekick that will reappear on a "Robert Pollard" stage will likely be the cooler full of beer. "I've been writing `GBV` songs for 21 years, and I've been making the `album` covers, and I've been the front clown out there, so what I do in the future won't be drastically different."
In time, Pollard would like Guided by Voices to be remembered not so much for the music but for the approach and attitude it embraced for two decades, "a roots-rock reinvention of punk, with a DIY aesthetic, playing rock for the right reasons. We stuck to our guns and we did it `we became` a band that is considered to be somewhat important in the big picture of rock. I never thought that would ever happen."