November 18, 2010

Essay: The Club Is Open

Guided By Voices
[Mitch Mitchell of Guided by Voices at The Paradise, Boston, MA, 11/5/2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini. More here. || We are pleased to welcome to these digital pages the writing of friend Cathy Piantigini, whose last name should look very familiar to regular readers. We've been dying to have Ms. Piantigini write for the publication since we read this terrific essay about seeing Bill Janovitz at Toad in Cambridge, Mass. We look forward to more well-ordered words from her. -- Ed. ]

Buzzards and dreadful crows
A necessary evil, I suppose
There’s something in this deal for everyone
Did you really think that you were the only one?

-Bob Pollard


My husband closes the door on the residuals of our Friday night dinner at home: dishes drying on the rack, spent bottle of wine in the recycle bin, homemade walnut basil pesto with sausage lingering in the kitchen.

Weighed down by a week spent catching busses, buying bananas and toilet paper, running miles on wet sidewalks made slick with falling leaves, and putting a combined 70 hours of our lives toward pensions, we lumber to our Civic. Not even out of our driveway, we're already hoping Commonwealth Avenue will take pity on two aging indie rock fans and offer up a parking spot so that we don't spend twenty minutes looking for one.

We're going to see Guided By Voices on their Classic Lineup Reunion Tour, which means everyone present will be a little older, a littler grayer, a little wistful. The show is at the beloved Paradise Rock Club, recently renovated, much to the dismay of my husband and I, and we duly note each other's complaints as we grumble our way to the bar.

The last song of the opening band sounds slick and boring, and is immediately followed with chants of GBV! GBV! GBV! when it ends. At the bar, we start catching up with friends we’ve grown accustom to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these past two decades. They, too left creature comforts -- children, sofas, DVRs -– reckoning the value gained in getting lost in sound.

We spend the time between bands talking about buying and refinancing homes, the not-so-impossibility of running marathons, budget cuts, and some random shows we were luckily just old enough to get into at The Channel, may it rest in peace.

The club is as packed as it ever will be for a show.

I take the earplugs my husband hands me, not that I have a choice; he has a habit of checking to make sure they're in and will pinch me repeatedly if I'm caught without. A friend will see this, lean in and say something like, “Yeah, it's a good to...these days...hearing...,” but I can't hear him that well because I’m wearing earplugs.

"He's relentless," I shout, thumbing at my husband, and we look over to watch him, oblivious of our exchange, talking to another friend and sipping his beer.

Finally the band’s signature neon sign hanging on the stage comes to life: The Club is Open. The band takes the stage and instantly beer bottles are thrust skyward, along with fists. The moment of collective love and escape has arrived. The people pressed around me, jittery and anxious only moments before, suddenly seem to melt into each other as they slap one another on the back, clinking bottles and such. Someone, somewhere, is smoking pot. A pal from college comes up behind me, slings her arm over my shoulder, and I remember the quarter barrels ushered into her dorm room that I, the slack resident assistant, chose to ignore.

By the second song my earplugs are out and I am falling for the guitar player, Mitch Mitchell. Doused in cigarette smoke and tattoos, he makes me swoon with every windmill he strums off a guitar that is truly an extension of his body. He smokes through the night, this creased, leathery strip of a man, jumping up and down with an agility that ignores his paunch; cigarette dangling from his lips the entire time, it was occasionally necessary to put it back in his mouth by a guy whose only job seemed to be having the next cigarette lit and at the ready.

At some point Mr. Mitchell acknowledges, “the fine looking pussy in the audience.” All 8 out of 840 of us. I feel my cheeks flush, and can't even pretend to be offended, even when he goes on to tell us all where he wants that pussy. I watch him having the time of his life, glad to be back on a stage he hasn't stood on in 14 years, leaving the band that long ago.

Fanning myself, I turn to my husband, fortunately not beside me, as he notices my lack of earplugs, and I mouth to him, “Can you believe this?!?” and turn back to my highlight of the week, while he shakes his head, bemused. Later I grab his shoulder and exclaim, “Michael, I'm dying!” forever grateful for his tolerance of my stage crushes.

The night is like an express train I was relieved to already be aboard because it is nonstop. Passengers are driven through 39 anthems, most barely two minutes in length, and the conductor pauses just long enough to take a swig of beer before introducing the title of the next song. At times veering on wrecking, it makes the ride even more thrilling.

Near the end of the night, the singer, Bob Pollard, tells us he just turned 53 and, “So fucking what.”


He is drunk and telling us that it was Guided By Voices who single handedly saved rock and roll from the shoe-gazing bands of the 90s, and there isn't a single person in the audience who will argue with him, rabid My Bloody Valentine fans, like myself, included.

I think about Pollard and my swoon-worthy guitar player and how these shows are probably the only times they are given free reign. After the tour, I imagine they go back home to significant others who keep close eyes on how many drained bottles of beer sit atop kitchen counters. Maybe no one's keeping count and they're drinking alone.

The next day my husband gets a text from another friend at the show who I remember looking over at a few times during the night, as he stood there stoically, like a gargoyle protecting his patch of floor, and wondering if he was having a good time:
Man, how fucking awesome was that show? If we had to go to war against other countries using only rock shows as the weapon, I'd make GBV the main show in our arsenal. So glad I went.
It has been four years since Bob Pollard decided to put Guided By Voices to pasture. We had been missing him and his band for four years and they had been missing us: the audience in every city that welcomes their vices. He calls us kids, and as my husband pointed out, he's like our drunk uncle, if that drunk uncle is in a band that has really amazing songs. -- Cathy Piantigini

1 comment:

Bryan Hamill - Executive Editor said...

A perfect and comical read with my morning coffee. Well done Cathy!