Cover Story: Cincinnati Connection:

GBV through the Years

Oct 20, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Greater Cincinnati — specifically Newport's Southgate House — has been a home away from home for Guided By Voices. In the early '90s, spurred partly by accolades from people like Kim Deal and Thurston Moore, the obscure Dayton band who had been gigging and writing songs sporadically for years caught fire in the underground and eventually mainstream music press.

Dan McCabe, then a concert promoter at Sudsy Malone's in Corryville, started bringing GBV to Cincinnati around the time of their rise and would ultimately end up booking most of their area shows at Sudsy's and the Southgate House. From the very beginning, McCabe says GBV packed the house, bringing in a strong following from their home base, who gladly made the drive down from Dayton.

"You had limited access to seeing the band, it was so damn packed," McCabe says of the earliest shows at Sudsy's, which drew about 500 fans despite a legal capacity of around 100. "There were probably only 50 people who actually saw those shows (because of limited viewing areas). I don't remember many specifics about the Sudsy's shows other than it just being dense. And hot."

It was 1995 when McCabe began bringing the group through the Southgate House, which could accommodate their dedicated legions a little more comfortably. The Southgate became the site of numerous non-tour show dates, with the band trying out new material before launching long treks around the world or simply doing "one-off" gigs to make a little extra cash.

McCabe says frontman/mastermind Bob Pollard has since talked in the press about the Southgate being his favorite venue to play.

"I guess it's somewhat of a Petri dish for them," McCabe says of the Southgate/GBV synergy. "A place to experiment; a place where they're comfortable."

Kind of like the old adage that if you remember the '60s you weren't really there, the drunken debauchery at a Guided By Voices show leaves little room for precise, wistful memories. McCabe himself is a little hazy on exact details, but, in dealing with the band on a business and hospitality level, he does recall some of the unique aspects of booking a GBV gig so close to their hometown. A mandatory 60-person guest list (which McCabe says is always expanded by the day of the show) and massive alcohol requirements (also usually extended) have resulted in some memorable behind-the-scenes situations.

"We would give them a separate room upstairs (at the Southgate) in the Parlour (bar area)," McCabe says, referring to private hospitality rooms for the band and their friends before and after shows. "We did that initially, but then they drank all the slo gin and anything they could get their hands on. Schnapps! Got drunk. Anything laying around. We pulled all the heavy liquor from the room to make it sane. We just left slo gin and mixing stuff, triple sec, and they drank all of it."

Lessons learned, McCabe says he ultimately put the band in rooms without any bar stock. For their Southgate finale, the entire second floor will be used for the band and their guests, "but everything will be locked up appropriately," McCabe insists.

McCabe says GBV also is the only band he's seen to ever have a beer cooler drawn into their stage plot, a basic equipment requirement map given to venues by artists ("The placement's important — right behind Bob, middle of the stage"). In 2001, he was introduced to the industrious idea of "piss buckets," carefully placed urine receptacles that allowed band members to relieve themselves without having to completely leave the stage area.

"I think it was around the time that they started being conscious of their consumption and switched from Budweiser to Miller Lite so they could last longer," McCabe recalls. "There happened to be a woman tour manager who was made to chase (the piss bucket idea) at Bob's request. And she did — asked for pickle buckets that she would handle. At the end of the show, she dumped them out in the alley. That could have been exclusive to the Southgate House, since there's no backstage area with bathrooms."

Despite the copious amounts of alcohol consumed by both band and audience members, McCabe says there's never been a fight at a GBV event and that any troubling incidents usually worked themselves out. But things definitely get a little more rowdy than the usual shows he books.

"A lot of their fans are just genuine assholes," he says. "That might reflect Dayton's invasion (when they play the Southgate). I think Dayton is full of assholes. That guest list is comprised of at least 50 percent assholes. But there's some monitoring — assholes take care of the assholes. It hasn't required more of a hands-on approach from the staff than any other show.

"If we went through and tried to weed out everybody who was shaking up their can of beer and spraying it into the air, the crowd would thin out real quick."

Despite the extra baggage, McCabe says Pollard has always been a pleasure to work with.

"It's always fun working with Bob," he says. "He's like a kid. He shows up excited to play. Giddy."

As the band comes down to this area for one final time, it's as triumphant Indie Rock heroes lying to rest an astonishingly prolific career that's spanned two decades. In fact, Newport has even officially declared Friday "Guided By Voices Day."

McCabe says he's not sentimental about the band's final bow, because he's sure the Southgate House hasn't seen the last of Pollard.

"I have no doubt that Bob will be calling up for a show for whatever he's got cookin'," McCabe surmises. "I don't really see it as an end to that whole chaos. I'm certain he'll be back. He'll have a guest list of about 60 assholes, and people are going to be spraying beer."