Let's get a few caveats out of the way right up front. This is NOT The Last Waltz
. Martin Scorcese's film of The Band's unbelievable swansong has nothing to worry about from this genial, jumbled mess. Nor are we witnessing another Stop Making Sense
. Jonathan Demme's deconstruction of the Talking Heads as performance artists turned uptight rhythm aces will live on longer as a work of cinema than this souvenir of a substrata cult band. The more than middle-aged schoolteacher turn cock rocker Bob Pollard will not be stealing 'frontman of the year' awards any time soon from the bands he looks to as influences. Roger Daltry, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel and his main songwriting influence, the late great John Winston Ono Lennon, are safe and secure in their aural place.
No, what The Electrifying Conclusion resembles is that last drunken toast at the ultimate family reunion, that schnapps-fueled stag party before your best friend walks down the aisle, or the balls-out beer and bourbon blowout one has before men are shipped off to war. It's a liquor-laced farce, a rock show in name only. Instead, the blissfully blotto Bob Pollard is taking the stage one final time to give the GBV devotees a last glimpse of his infamous booze-based bravado. Pollard is unquestionably one of the few genuine geniuses of the pop song - you can't listen to any of the Voices mammoth catalog and not catch yourself caught up in the chorus, or vexed by a verse. But he also represents a kind of pure pronouncement of the punk DIY movement. Here is a man who taught fourth grade, wanted to be a rock star, and then went about making that vision come true. He dreamt up names for his imaginary groups and derived song titles and playlists from the juxtaposition of words he found working in his brain. Eventually, like a post-paisley pied piper, he drafted a few of his friends (and family members) into his power chord fantasyland.
The resulting amalgamation of attitudes and anarchy, known as Guided by Voices, became a late 80s/90s standard bearer for individuals fed up with the mainstream music scene. While not always the good-natured guardians of lo-fi authenticity they're famed for (their first few albums have often been called "retread REM") Pollard proved that technical grace was unimportant to the auditory process. Instead, it was all about the song. The same can be said for The Electrifying Conclusion. If it wasn't for the fabulous variety of career-spanning sounds we hear during this sensationally slapdash show, we'd be want to dismiss it as an overall off night for the band. But the GBV faithful know that this is classic Pollard, full of piss, vinegar and as many malted beverages as his bladder can hold at any given moment. The result is a raucous riot act of a concert, a live performance as literal personal purgative for a man ready to move on within his multifaceted musical legacy.
And what a stellar hummable heritage it is. The Electrifying Conclusion - shot vocals, random atonal guitar chords and overall physical exhaustion aside - is prime fist-pumping Voices. It is everything aficionados find charming and challenging about the band, along with heaping helpings of Pollard's patented proto-punk poseur polish. That one man can remember the lyrics to 63 songs for a single performance is absolutely amazing. That he can "almost" recreate the sound of his sensationally strained vocalizing live is equally thrilling. Pollard's sonic shtick has always been earnestness channeled through one too many Who albums. He melds Beatle-pop and Kinks fop and tosses in some strangely surreal prog leanings, all to create an entire dorm room record collection circa 1973. The result is a compendium of tunes of tremendous rock muscle, with a classic guitar/bass sound that bellows above and beneath the riffing to sink directly into your soul.
There are four phases to this show, each one with their own undeniable pleasures. Up and through "Redmen and their Wives", Bob and the boys - Nate Farley (guitar), Chris Slusarenko (bass), Doug Gillard, (guitar/vocals) and Kevin March (drums) - are in excellent form. They speed through a rousing selection of songs, touching on obscure EPS and other rarities along the way ("Do the Earth" is always an exciting rave-up). But right before they play "Shocker in Gloomtown", Pollard downs a jaunty jigger of Gentleman Jack (no sipping) and suddenly the show shifts. It's genial drunk time as Bob bounces around, glazed look in his eyes, and decided frog settled in this throat. As a result, a few of the songs suffer. There is a wonderful rendition of "Sad If I Lost It", but "Unleashed! The Large Hearted Boy" and "Glad Girls" end up as irritating audience participation pieces as Pollard passes the mic into the crowd and let's them do the crooning.
By Encore #1, things clean up substantially. The readings of "My Valuable Hunting Knife" and "Hot Freaks" are fabulous. But then true physical weariness comes calling, and Encore #2 is the Bataan Death March of musical concerts. In what should be the show's sonic high point - Pollard's poetic "Dayton Ohio - 19 Something and 5" - we instead get a barely coherent band basing out the noxious non-notes. The show closer, the epic ballad "Don't Stop Now" is breathtaking, and leaves the viewer with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Yet as they do the group hug thing for the final bow, we don't feel like we're witnessing the end of an era. Instead, The Electrifying Conclusion plays like a final exam. Similar to the Let It Be sentiment shared by Pollard hero Lennon on the Apple Corps. rooftop three decades before, Guided by Voices wanted to make sure they "passed the audition". They may have stumbled along the way, but this wonderfully wonky gig is still a classic concert experience. This is not rock as spectacle. This is rock as SOUND - and the noise is as intoxicating as the freely flowing alcohol on stage.
By the way Bob - you passed. There was never a doubt, really.
Guided by Voices - The Electrifying Conclusion is a mixed medium presentation, incorporating varied digital camera footage, some minor filmed elements, and a nice collection of direct video feeds. The result is a fabulous and flawed 1.33:1 full screen transfer that offers the best, and worst, of the new technology. There is grain and occasional artifacting. We witness bleeding and bad lighting levels. For every shot of Pollard in full rock god mode, there is a poorly composed image of the back of someone's head. Matt Monsoor's direction is really professional, and does capture the band's live vibe wonderfully well. For those DVD image sticklers out there, this disc will not be pleasing. But for GBV fans everywhere, this is a marvelous look at an amazing band in action.
What most fans will probably belly ache about is the lack of a Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix. The 2.0 presentation is fine - after all, Guided by Voices is all power chords and big bass beats. There is very little instrumental intricacy to get lost in the sonic sludge. Still, with home theaters overloaded with available speakerage, the lack of a true channel challenging soundtrack is a tad disheartening. This show still sounds great, but it probably won't tantalize the audiophile's ears.
What? Four HOURS of concert not enough for you? You want more? What, are you Oliver Twist or something? Anyway, Plexifilm feels your added content pain and delivers a couple of completely captivating bonus features. The first is a hilarious clip from a show the band performed way back in 1994. Taking the stage at the small, cramped Antenna club in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the various GBV line-ups plow through "Break Even", "Cruise", "Some Drilling Implied" and "White Whale". The crowd is rowdy, glasses can be constantly heard crashing to the floor, and the band is filmed from some sort of background barstool, rendering their onstage act almost indistinguishable. Still, it's wonderful to have this snippet from the very early days of the GVB journey. From old to new, the last extra is a pair of video demos from the Decomposed album. Pollard plays guitar and sings "Girls of Wild Strawberries" and "Window of My World", and frankly, he's never been in better form. Stripped down to their basics, these songs prove the man's immense musical gift.
Pollard will persist. Someone with as many perfect pop musings percolating around in his head simply has to. And what's to say that, 10 years from now when the 90s revival is in full fledged cultural revisionism, the classic GBV line-up (whatever that may be) won't reunite for a series of shows - or better yet, a place on the Lollapalooza 3.0 tour lineup. The band was always an extension of Pollard's personality anyway. As long as the man is alive, Guided by Voices will be as well. Besides, this is one act that has a seemingly neverending back catalog of material. Pollard recently released Suitcase 2, another 100 demos, experiments and outtakes from his extensive recording career - and there is a promise of more on the way. While we may never see this version of the band ever again, there have been other famous (and infamous) finales in the Voices past. As usual, it's the song that matters, and with the timeless tunes found throughout The Electrifying Conclusion, there is very little chance of the GBV legacy dying out. Instead, it is only destined to grow.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here