People always ask, ‘where’s your piss and puke buckets now?’
BY KAREN HEERINGA
It started in Ohio. Of course it did.
Having released a ridiculous amount of music (25 albums, 39 singles, and 1,600+ songs) since the 1983 formation of seminal Dayton garage rockers/binge drinkers Guided By Voices, the hard rocking/hard swilling underground icons could actually be more famous for their (several) farewell shows. One show in particular could be the biggest goodbye they gave, at Metro on New Year’s Eve in 2004. The show was a staggering four hours long, eventually turning into something akin to a Bruce Springsteen or Barbra Streisand concert, only way cooler. In all, they played 63 songs.
“It was sort of a joke, but we had these big white plastic buckets on stage labeled ‘piss’ and ‘puke’,” guitarist Doug Gillard recalls. “At that show we had built in a couple of songs where the bass player could play with [frontman] Bob [Pollard] and I’d go and take a break, and then other songs where the bassist, the other guitarist, and drummer could take breaks too.” The DVD that resulted from that glorious evening, The Electrifying Conclusion, is well known among GBV’s legions of die-hard acolytes. “It’s sort of infamous now,” Gillard says. “People always ask, ‘where’s your piss and puke buckets now?’”
As prolific as Pollard is (GBV’s new double album, August By Cake, marks the frenetic songwriter’s 100th album), it’s strange to ever think that a band like Guided By Voices would stop making music. “We play for two hours and forty-five minutes now,” Gillard says. “Our audience has just as much stamina as we do.”
Even though Pollard is turning 60 this Halloween, GBV has always been one of those cool older brother-type bands that up-and-coming artists want to tour with. And the band is known to be friendly and willing to give advice. Because of this, they oftentimes find themselves in the company of musicians that eventually become really big. “The Strokes opened for us on their first club tour,” Gillard says. “We played two nights in Chicago at the Empty Bottle. They were just learning the ropes. Pretty soon we were switching up headlining duties and then they got really huge. We were taking My Morning Jacket out on their first club tour when The Strokes flew us down to New York to be in their ‘Someday’ video.” Also amongst the band’s eager sidekicks in the early days were young groups like Nirvana (still in their infancy) and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Last month the notoriously unglamorous GBV traveled to Indio, California to play the notoriously glitzy Coachella. With the festival now known more for the celebrities and fashion surrounding it, one may not necessarily describe it as a rock festival. Nevertheless, Gillard was still impressed by the enormity of it all. “Everything was so organized,” he says. “Your trailer was in a circle with a couple other trailers with musicians you may not know, with a big grassy area in the center of the trailers with a picnic table to sit around. The place we played was like a big tent made to look like a club.” Not keeping with their historically long sets, it was surprising to hear they only played for an hour and a half.
GBV has paved the way for so many classic bands and yet, in the end, their birth certificates still say “Ohio.” After living in New York for some time, though, Gillard knows one indicator of making it big in the world of music: “My wife and I saw Hamilton while it was still in previews.”