THE ALCOHOL-DRENCHED VISIONS I retain are as fond as they are blurry. It was November 2004. After 20-odd years, with a pair of sold-out nights at Berbati's, Guided by Voices were nearing the end of what was to be their final tour. The band's rudder and only original member, Robert Pollard, was in fine form, saluting with patented high-swooping leg kicks between gulps of tequila straight from the bottle. He shared it with the ecstatic limbs up front, singing along as they bounced.
I too drank from Pollard's cup, pressed between the sweaty, dancing mass, and for myriad reasons it felt familial and historic. Too young to have witnessed the group's divine incarnation, I was happy to see them at all. Regardless of the lineup, Guided by Voices were tearing glazedly and earnestly through their short songs with such inclusive vigor as to void all thoughts of authenticity—the room was awash in a tsunami of warm, drunken pop.
Despite taking place 10 years and eight records later, much of the evening's set pulled from the group's mid-'90s golden age—the home-recorded, lo-fi pastiche of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. After the amicable departure of guitarist Tobin Sprout, who drove this patchwork aesthetic, Pollard went on to pen memorable tunes, but no subsequent record matched that early and totally singular cohesive pull.
On New Year's Eve in Chicago, again without his original shipmates, Pollard captained a 63-song set, closing what he expected to be Guided by Voices' final chapter. A reunion was not on the books. "To me, it's just cashing in," Pollard told Magnet in 2007. "If you're gonna get the band back together, it should be to support a new record, not just to play the hits. That's like doing the county-fair circuit."
Earlier this year, however, Guided by Voices announced they would re-form, along with Sprout and the "classic '93-'96 lineup," to play Matador Records' 21st anniversary celebration. News of a tour soon followed. I arranged an interview to ask Pollard what had changed, but at the last minute his publicist informed me he was backing out due to a cold.
For a time I thought there was no right way to answer that question. I've since changed my tune. To properly close the nearly epic story of Guided by Voices—a band from Dayton, Ohio, who never should've made it—Pollard must do so with the bandmates who helped him begin the journey.