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Chicago Tribune  
October 22 2000 
By Steve Knopper


The members of Guided by Voices, a rock 'n' roll band from Dayton, Ohio, sometimes feel they're wearing invisible targets on stage. They regularly dodge beer bottles, bottle caps, plastic cups, shot glasses, cassette tapes and CD-ROMs. Two years ago in San Francisco, a torrent of women's underwear flew from the crowd, which the band attributed to a mischievous male fan who'd bought a cheap bag of lingerie before the show.

Then, at Chicago's Metro this summer, a homemade book titled "Monster" hit the stage. The band was oblivious, but Metro general manager Rob Dunworth retrieved the book the next morning. "GBV . . . you never return my calls!" it read in part. "This is the third book I've thrown. Don't make me slap . . . I'm sorry, honey, look what you made me do. I love you but you make me do these things. The Book Bandit."

Dunworth, a veteran at Metro, can't recall a stranger crowd projectile -- and he once watched Fu Manchu's Scott Hill continue singing after taking a face full of beer at close range. Throwing sexy, meaningful, funny or dangerous things at rock bands is a long tradition, from Beatles fans bestowing jelly beans upon sweet-toothed George Harrison to Green Day's Woodstock '94 mudfight to the Blues Brothers' fictional chicken-wire-and-beer-bottles experience at the blues-hating Bob's Country Bunker.

For Guided by Voices guitarist Doug Gillard, being subjected to strange objects tossed by fans is just part of another day at the office. Usually, when the band receives poetry or prose, Gillard delivers it to singer Robert Pollard, a moonlighting teacher. The guitarist remembers paging through such a novel only once, after a show in Canada: "It was some pretty good fiction, with characters and everything."

Hurlers, of course, often skew destructive rather than creative. For months, Guided by Voices hung a fan's gift -- a homemade neon sign named for a GBV song, "The Club Is Open" -- far above the stage. During a recent Milwaukee show, a man took aim with a shot glass and broke the sign. The band has since had it repaired, but Gillard isn't bitter. "It wasn't one of our heads or anything," he says. "Sometimes the audience members get hit from some of the things that come from our stage."

Projectiles are part of rock 'n' roll lore. An early-'80s Journey video featured bleeding guitarist Neil Schon dramatically fighting through his solo after a beer bottle popped him in the face. But unless a performer is lucky enough to be Tom Jones, who receives respectful showers of bras and panties every night, most aren't so laid back.

The British rock band Oasis, for example, fled an outdoor stage in Lisbon, Portugal, in August after a barrage of bottles and cans flew from the crowd. Five years ago, the Violent Femmes made headlines in Peoria for abruptly cutting off a concert after singer Gordon Gano took a shoe in the head.

Such situations can create nasty relations between bands and concert promoters. Many clubs, including Metro, have long since replaced their bottles and glasses with plastic cups. Many performers carry on no matter what happens. At a recent festival, Chicago country singer Robbie Fulks picked up a beer bottle off the stage and threw it back at the fan who gave it to him.

Chicago singer-songwriter Jon Langford, who has spent countless hours interacting with raucous punk and country crowds beginning with England's Mekons in the late '70s, says he rarely gets beer bottles thrown his way anymore. In recent years, he and his bandmates in the Mekons, Waco Brothers and Three Johns have developed a no-tolerance position. "It's terrible. As soon as anyone threw anything at the Three Johns we were off the stage. That was it," he says.

Throwing money, however, is encouraged. Amazingly, many crowds take the Mekons' song "Give Me 10,000 Pounds" literally -- to the point where singer Sally Timms received a check for $100. (She tracked down the generous fan to give it back.)

"People roll it into little balls. I was making $8 a night!" Langford says. "It actually caused a lot of friction in the band. Those that are more nimble on their feet could pick up more money and shove it in their pocket. I was one of the nimble ones."