Live: Guided By Voices Reconfigure Time And Space
Guided By Voices w/Wavves, Surfer Blood
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Better than: Just hearing the show without seeing it, which is what everyone who lives on my street got to do anyway.
It's long been gospel that you can't tell Robert Pollard anything. Attempts by well-meaning biz types to get the pop-song savant to make things easier on people by downgrading his release schedule to merely flooding the market, or resisting his love of lyrical absurdism, were clearly not taken to heart by a man whose second 2011 release has a song called "Ash Ript Telecopter."
So if Pollard has decided that "Guided By Voices is a New York band," as he did during his reunited group's Northside Festival headlining set on Saturday, then there is no arguing the point that Guided By Voices are a New York band. Dayton, Ohio, he said, is only eight hours away from our fair city, so it's basically the same thing. Much like "people from Spokane say they're from Seattle."
Considering the enthusiastic response Pollard got earlier in his group's characteristically marathon set when, after praising the borough's beauty, he asked, "if I moved to Brooklyn, would you take care of me and my old lady?" I imagine that New York residents won't mind if Pollard fudges some geographical details as long as we can claim him as our own. (He elaborated: He'd get up, drink a lot of espresso, get a slice around 2 p.m. and head to the bar around happy hour. Get this man some sort of artisan hobbyhe'd probably excel at one of The Meat Hook's butchering classesand he would fit right in.)
Break-up/reunion cycles sure are getting shorter, huh? Pollard retired the Guided By Voices band name seven years ago and then carried on much as he always has, releasing too many collections of weird, fuzzy, effortlessly effective pop rock to keep track of, this time under his own name. As part of last year's Matador Records 21st-anniversary party, Pollard reconvened what he calls the "classic line-up" of guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin Fennell; this lineup (for the most part, it's always tricky with these guys) appeared on "Greatest Albums Of The '90s" perennials like Bee Thousand and
It's debatable if this "classic" outing really needed to happen. Pollard's relentless tour and release schedule and tendency to tell people "I am Guided By Voices" burned out most of the breakthrough lineup and their livers by 1997. But Guided By Voices never quit making solid albums (Isolation Drills is perhaps their best late-period release, though I see you, Earthquake Glue fans) and performing beer-drenched revues. Not much has changed, except for the intensity of the touring cycle, with Pollard's solo career. It seemed he only quit using the marquee name out of noble ideas about ending on a high note and not wearing out his welcome. But it would be churlish to deny anyone, audience or band, the fun being had on Saturday.
Demos, wearing an absolutely ridiculous combo of leather vest and frilly white shirt (think Beauty And The Beast or a PBS period drama), was clearly delighted to be taking time off from his attorney gig to be a rock star again, endlessly indulging in a series of bass-face muggings while goofily holding his instrument high to his chest. Mitchell has apparently morphed into a member of Social Distortion, complete with sleeve and neck tattoos. That he was willing to occasionally stop smoking to sing background vocals seems the clearest sign that he was also happy to be there. But the biggest applause was for guitarist Tobin Sprout, who sang (in a voice eerily similar to Pollard's) lead on "14 Cheerleader Coldfront" and demonstrated that his chiming, British Invasion-indebted buzzing and knack for piling up hooks were as key to GBV's template as Pollard's odd vision.