[Guided By Voices at the Paradise, Boston, MA 11/5/2010. Photo by Michael Piantigini. A few more photos here.]
Guided By Voices in 2010 might be what it would be like if your drunk uncle’s band had really, really amazing songs.
On December 31, 2004, with the name being more brand than band at that point, Bob Pollard retired the final lineup of Guided By Voices with a delirious 4-hour set in Chicago. Judging by The Electrifying Conclusion (Plexifilm), the DVD account of that night, it’s a wonder anyone survived.
But survive they did, and here they are. Owing largely - much like this year’s Pavement reunion - to the fact that Matador Records asked them headline their big 21st anniversary shindig in Vegas (grrrr). Pollard credited Matador’s founders the other night, telling us “they’re not stupid.” Apparently not - unlike Pollard's last few tours, as well as recent visits by this lineup's contemporaries like Teenage Fanclub and Superchunk, Guided By Voices’ Boston date sold out instantly. As it should have, since this is this particular sub-culture's Beatles, Stones, and Replacements all rolled into one.
The “classic lineup” on the road now is – and always was – a bit rough around the edges. But if you’re looking for precision musicianship, you best look someplace else because Guided By Voices – as the name implies – is about a spirit. Whether Pollard's making records with pals in the basement or dragging those pals on tour for the kids, this stuff connects and makes a club feel like family. Maybe it’s frat rock for music nerds?
One can quibble over who precisely makes up the "classic" lineup (there have been many members), but the period that this tour is covering is incontrovertibly classic: their string of albums from 1992-1996 beginning with Propeller, and continuing with Vampire on Titus, Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars is a staggering 5 album run that is nearly unmatched.
But GBV are a different animal live than on record. Basement cassette four-trackers become windmill-slashing, beer-raising, fist-pumping anthems on stage. However unlikely sounding, "Exit Flagger," "My Valuable Hunting Knife," and "I Am A Scientist" feel every bit as important as any Springsteen anthem when the entire club is shouting along in a boozy bliss. Every song feels like an anthem from this period, and they drew not just from those five albums, but a host of singles and EPs as well. There was a lot to choose from, but when a band is giving you upwards of 40 songs, chances are you'll hear your favorites. That being said, Under the Bushes... felt a little under-represented.
Guitarist Mitch Mitchell - who, by all accounts, seems to be having the most fun on this tour - is so very rock and roll. His late-show stage banter about the, ahem, ladies in the audience (a distinct minority) would have made Steven Tyler blush. In stark contrast, mild-mannered guitarist Tobin Sprout held down the other side of the stage, and his being the George Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon AND McCartney, his songs were a gentle respite throughout the 2-hour set.
Bob Pollard presided over it all, of course. Addressing us, like always, as “kids,” which gets more hilarious with each passing year. Though we all kinda felt like kids for those couple of hours.
Later lineups may have been a little tighter (though some of them were often just as drunk), but this Guided By Voices is the real deal. The hard-partying must be getting tougher, but hopefully they'll survive this round too.
Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices: Intertubes