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Guided by Voices -- Dec. 30, 2004


Cabaret Metro

Dec. 30, 2004

If you never partook of the bombast and bacchanalia that was Guided by Voices, I warn you that my account will probably fail to do it justice. Former school teacher Robert Pollard somehow managed to combine the anthemic idealism of the early-to-mid-period Who, the spacey glam of early Bowie, the artsy, angular punk of Wire and Mission of Burma, and often martial beats into an amalgam that (not unlike the psychedelia of Robyn Hitchcock) felt classic without being easily put into any hisroric pigeonhole Live, all of the elements just listed could be filtered through the boozy recklessness of the Replacements, leaving one in suspense of whether the band would consume so much that they would lose the beauty of the melody and melt into a puddle onstage. Thankfully, teir penultimate show skated up to that line, but never crossed it.

Former GbV member and songwriting collaborator Tobin Sprout opened the evening with a set that leaned more heavily on his GbV catalog than when I last saw him open for the band in 2003. Perhaps it was the presence of the hardest of the GbV corps in the audience, but Sprout seemed far more confident in his performance than on that prior occasion. When the crowd would sing along with "Ester's Day," from the GbV classic Bee Thousand, or join in the call-and-response "Yeahs!"on "High-Flying Bird" from Alien Lanes, you could see a big grin normally not seen on the mild-mannered Sprout. The opening set ended with "It's Like Soul Man," from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, one of my favorites.

Between sets, a video projector played a montage suitable for a funeral entitled "Guided by Voices: 1983-2004." Archival pictures of the band alternated with time-lapse footage of clouds, or scenes of a meadow cycling through the seasons: a bee alighting from a daisy; a beautiful crimson sunset; fallen leaves blowing by empty trees; snow-covered pines by a stream. All accompanied by cheesy sounding synth music composed by the band. It was both touching and hilarious.

Shortly thereafter, various GbV rituals from years past were played out. The cooler full of beer being carried before the band's arrival, much like the Ark of the Covenant. The repaired neon sign announcing "The Club is Open" (a reference to "A Salty Salute," from Alien Lanes) was lit. In a special twist, a guest bartender from Trader Vic's took his place behind a bar erected next to the soundboard. I initially thought this guy had no idea what he was in for, but I later caught him singing along with "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows" (from Bee Thousand,).

What followed was just over three hours of joyous noise, drawing almost equally from the band's last disc, GbV classics, deep album cuts and obscure tracks from the scads of independent EPs the band put out over the past two decades. Given the brevity of so many GbV tunes, the set list was extensive. A new song like "Girls of Wild Strawberries" was as likely to be followed by "Heavy Metal Country" (from the Sunfish Holy Breakfast EP), "Matter Eater Lad" (from the Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer EP) or "My Impression Now" (from the Fast Japanese Spin Cycle EP) as it was to be "Teenage FBI," the new-wavey anthem from Do the Collapse. My personal highlights would include a searing version of "Game of Pricks," the bouncy "My Valuable Hunting Knife" (both from Alien Lanes) a glorious rendition of "I Am A Tree," (from Mag Earwig, written by lead guitarist Doug Gillard) and "Back to the Lake" (from Universal Truths and Cycles), which suffered only slightly from the drinks consumed to that point in the show (if you haven't heard "Back to the Lake," you can download it for free at Amazon, along with songs like "My Kind of Soldier," which they did play, and "I Will Replace You with Machines," which they did not).

Indeed, a newly grey (or newly undyed) Pollard actually stopped drinking for part of the show, just keep himself in check. He's also quit smoking, though he made an exception for the final two shows at the Metro. He also kept his habits of handing out beer to the audience, lecturing them on which of his songs were better than the ones they liked, and criticizing local rock critics -- this time, gently sniping at Jim DeRogatis, who has suggested that Pollard puts out too much material.

Another high point of the evening would be when former bandmates Greg Demos and Jim McPherson sat in for "Shocker In Gloomtown" (from The Grand Hour EP) and "I Drove A Tank" (which appears on Choreographed Man Of War, by Robert Pollard and his Soft Rock Renegades). I had forgotten how well those two "made show," which will make me miss them all the more and regret that I would miss the final show, which promised many more guest stars.

The encore featured a shower of hits, including "Glad Girls" (from Isolation Drills) a majestically near-perfect pop song with no verses, and "I Am a Scientist" (from Bee Thousand,), with Don Thrasher, a/k/a Tobin Sprout, on drums. However, Bob and Doug also ran through "Redmen and Their Wives," a rarely played track from Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, and followed "Echos Myron" (from Bee Thousand,) -- a frequent show finale -- with "Exit Flagger" (from Propeller).

Leaving the club, it was hard to avoid the mixed feeling typical of leaving a GbV show: you heard so many great songs, but there were so many more unheard. Knowing that this would be the last GbV concert I would be able to see for the foreseeable future only amplified these feelings. Why couldn't they have played "Motor Away" or "Bulldog Skin?" Didn't they know the tickets for New Year's Eve sold out in seconds? In this respect, GbV was a reminder of a life lesson to be thankful for what you have while you have it. But I still wanted to hear "Alone, Stinking and Unafraid" one last time.

Added:  Sunday, January 02, 2005
Reviewer:  Karl
Related web link:  GbV Official Site
hits: 5843
Language: eng


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