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Robert Pollard and band let it all hang out one last time

Guided by Voices.jpg

Much like the band’s career itself, the final Guided By Voices performance was an exercise in excess and stamina. As captured on the concert DVD The Electrifying Conclusion (Plexifilm), the group’s swan song from New Year’s Eve 2004 in Chicago proved a fitting finale for the legendary indie-rock heroes.

The film fully illustrates the dynamic that gave Robert Pollard‘s project such a devoted cult following: crunching power chords and meaty choruses, free-flowing booze and, most prominently, the mad-genius musings and stage antics of lead singer and principal songwriter Pollard, the band’s visionary and lone mainstay through its 21 offbeat years and countless releases.

GBV unleashes a staggering 64 hard-charging tracks from its absurdly deep catalog, and finally calls it a night some three-plus hours later with the appropriately titled closer to the second encore, “Don’t Stop Now.” Even with such a marathon performance, director Matt Monsoor manages to keep things fresh with varied camera angles and shots, including some hand-held close-ups that capture the emotion and energy of not only the performers (Pollard, guitarists Doug Gillard and Nate Farley, bassist Chris Slusarenko and drummer Kevin March, plus a cast of former GBV members making cameos) but also the jam-packed crowd of devotees, who are shown at various points singing essentially every word and often pumping their raised fists proudly. (The DVD also contains essential extras for GBV maniacs: rough footage from a sparsely attended 1994 performance and a couple of studio demos showing Pollard on guitar.)

More importantly, Monsoor never misses a beat with Pollard, one of the most colorful front men in rock history. Whether staggering around the stage, swilling beer from the band’s stash, downing shots with onstage bartender “Trader Vic” or playfully bending forward to allow an audience member to light his cigarette, Pollard seems to be having the time of his life.

His intake does catch up to him eventually. He clearly slurs frequently during “Cut-Out Witch,” around the two-and-a-half hour mark, but rebounds to nail the rave-up “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows.” A short time later, however, he plods awkwardly through “Glad Girls,” forcing the band to take that tune a step slower.

Remarkably, even as he grows more sloshed, Pollard somehow can recall which tracks are from which records — no easy feat — as he announces most numbers and their corresponding release (as if the audience members don’t already know). Still, even he gets crossed up at one point, saying of the forgettable and brief “Tropical Robots,” “I think it’s an outtake from Do the Collapse.” Actually, it’s included on two EPs and a B-sides collection, and that fact, plus its inclusion in the set to begin with speaks to GBV’s tendency to commit overkill. (Likewise, the 10-minute pre-show montage of still photographs of the band through the years is entirely too long.)

Pollard hardly seems concerned about that possibility, as midway through the concert he announces that “this will be the longest show of all time.” At times, it sure does feel like it, which is precisely why this DVD is sure to thrill Guided By Voices die-hards.

It may even win some belated converts, among those who may not necessarily end up worshipping at the altar of Robert Pollard, but simply hate to see a buzz this good wear off.

— By George Henn