Seattle was going to be a special show, if only because so many Vancouverites would be driving down for it. Rabid fans willing to cross a border trump rabid fans who just have to drive downtown (or, in the case of the Showbox Sodo, south of downtown), and you can bet the Canuck fans would be pushed up against the stage, arms pumping the air and vocal chords straining to keep up with Pollard’s.
And because Seattle was my final stop on this, the West Coast leg of the great Guided by Voices Classic Reunion Tour, and because I’d been low-budgeting my digs, I decided to wind up the tour in style…
I’d stayed at the W Hotel in Seattle once before, years ago, and at the time thought it the height of sophistication and modernity. I’ve stayed in a few places as nice or even nicer since, but the W has informed my vision of what a big-city cosmopolitan hotel should be – a lobby that is more like a club or a lounge, sexy suites (thanks to a combo of colour scheme, layout, amenities and furnishings), and celebrity sightings (Quentin Tarantino, in town at the time for the Seattle Int’l Film Festival, holding court in the lounge).
As it turned out*, we (my girlfriend was driving down from Vancouver for the show) were given a “corner king”, which is a corner suite with a king-size bed and a spectacular north-facing view of Seattle. Back in a room in the W, I realized where my taste both in hotels and in espresso-coloured furniture comes from.
Nevertheless, one of the first things I did was ask for a roll of Scotch tape so I could transform the room from a “king corner” to the “Hallway of Shatterproof Glass** Suite”:
But excitement for the Saturday night Seattle show was tempered by a couple of things. For one, the venue, Showbox Sodo, wasn’t the centrally located Showbox I’d been to for many shows previous, including two Guided by Voices appearances; this one was in the no-man’s land south of downtown, south even of the stadium. As well, as one of the local weeklies had pointed out, Seattle now has “stringent laws” against drinking onstage. What would the notoriously hard-drinking Pollard do?
Well, the Showbox Sodo is a shit venue in a shit location, but we managed to find a bar full of hard-drinking GBV fans just across the street. Once we were inside, the Showbox Sodo’s limitations fell away amidst the beaming faces of Seattle and Vancouver fans, all anticipating the start of the show.
As usual for this tour, the band’s entrance was preceded by a lengthy voiceover from what sounded like an old instructional record, interspersed with a soundclip of Barack Obama saying “guided by voices”. When the five members finally came out the party really started; people pressed shoulder to shoulder to the front of the stage**, raising their arms to punch the air and singing along as Guided by Voices ripped into the trusty show-starter “A Salty Salute”, followed by the single track “Shocker in Gloomtown” and perennial Bee Thousand favourite “Tractor Rape Chain”.
Pollard addressed the no-stage-drinking rules early on, announcing they didn’t apply to Guided by Voices. Simple enough.
By now of course I was pretty familiar with the set – five shows in seven days, with basically the same songs each night, will do that. The band was as tight, maybe tighter than at any other time I’d seen them, and Sprout, Mitchell, Fennell, Demos and Pollard rocked with the confidence of knowing they were running through one helluva great batch of songs – “Gold Star for Robot Boy”. “Matter Eater Lad”. “Game of Pricks”. “Smothered in Hugs”. “Hot Freaks”. “My Impression Now”. “Echoes Myron”. “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows”. And 30 or so more…
But, as I’ve said, I was getting off more on people’s reactions. And so my favourite moment probably wasn’t any one song, or line, or anything that happened onstage. It was when my girlfriend, who had disappeared early on into the melee, came out of the crush at the front of the stage.
I’d hung back but she got right in there and, according to her, she’d come “this close” to getting a swig from Pollard’s tequila bottle (which, by the time he passed it to the front rows, was down to a couple of inches). But now, as she came out of the audience toward the end of the set, I felt like the whole last week had been leading up to this – Robyn, disheveled and sweaty, smiling and laughing because she knew that, yes, we were lucky to be in that bar, on this night, seeing Guided by Voices.
*In the interests of full disclosure, I did play the press card, which resulted in a slightly reduced rate for a better room than we probably otherwise could have afforded.
**This might sound like typical concert behaviour, but keep in mind the average age of a Guided by Voices fan is probably 35.
Note: this post originally appeared on thesnipenews.com in October of 2010.