The band Guided by Voices has always had one of the great back stories in rock 'n' roll: a group of middle-aged men from blue-collar Dayton, Ohio, recording lo-fi albums in their basements for a small, but adoring local following.
After 1994's "Bee Thousand" garnered them the attention of the nation's critics and indie-music fans across the country, band leader Robert Pollard quit his 14-year career as a fourth-grade teacher and hit the road full time as a would-be rock star. Ever since, Guided By Voices has released about an album a year, each one a brilliant mix of catchy pop songs, surreal stream-of-consciousness lyrics and sonic experiments.
Over the years, the band has seen a revolving door of members, with only Pollard as the constant. For all intents and purposes, Pollard is Guided by Voices, and he is nothing if not prolific. In addition to the 14 records by Guided by Voices, he has released countless solo and side-project albums. He estimates that he's written more than 4,000 songs. And if not all of them are necessarily keepers, no one can compete with him in sheer number of memorable hooks. The average Guided by Voices record has more catchy pop melodies than most indie bands can muster in an entire career.
But all good stories must come to an end as Pollard has decided to retire Guided by Voices, claiming that "I'm getting too old to be a gang leader." But as befitting a man with such good musical taste, Pollard is taking the band out in style, with a strong final album "Half Smiles of the Decomposed" and "The Electrifying Conclusion" tour. "Half Smiles" is yet another indie-pop masterpiece. Songs like "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud," "The Closets of Henry" and "Girls of Wild Strawberries" seem destined for the GBV canon. The band sounds tight, with talented lead guitarist Doug Gillard leading the way, as the record reaches a happy medium between the band's lo-fi roots and the overly clean sound of their major label releases.
For all of their studio output, the essential Guided by Voices experience is to see them live. Pollard loves to play the star, his performance full of high leg kicks, swinging microphones and rock 'n' roll facial expressions. The band usually mounts the stage carrying a cooler full of beer, and aren't above sharing them with the audience. They can drink most of them during their two hour-plus, 50-song sets. Their obsessive fans shout along with such classics as "Alone, Stinking and Unafraid," "Game of Pricks" and "I Am A Scientist." Pollard has vowed that this will be the last Guided by Voices tour ever.
Unfortunately, the closest they are getting to Jackson is Athens, Ga., Houston and Dallas in late September and early October. But dedicated Guided by Voices fans will be making the road trip to say goodbye to their indie-rock heroes.
For more information about Guided by Voices' last tour, see www.gbv.com For a good introduction to the band's overwhelming catalog, listen to their best-of compilation "Human Amusements at Hourly Rates."