We check in on the reunion tour with the Oct. 5 show from San Francisco’s Warfield
Theatre, which yielded more than just the “hits” and far more than mere
nostalgia. And shit yeah, it’s cool.
By Zach Bloom
Guided By Voices was last
seen in 2005 when Robert Pollard disbanded his group of soft rock renegades
with The Electrifying Conclusion Tour. At the time, Pollard posed as if beyond
critique, touting himself a Solider of Rock. His relatively youthful backing
band perfected the cracks and imperfections from GBV’s days as a lovable, lo-fi
bedroom project. (Before it was cool to be a lo-fi bedroom project; Pollard and
his friends were just average guys, living in the midwest without the benefits
of the internet.)
It would seem that GBV had
to go away for it to ever come back – well, like this, at least. The “classic”
lineup that recorded its albums for Matador Records in the mid-‘90s has
returned to celebrate the label’s 21st anniversary. It’s a big
reunion as Pollard takes to the road with songwriter and guitarist Tobin
Sprout, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin
Fennell. The majority of the crew hasn’t veered far from the GBV universe of
prolific collaborations and side projects, but this marks the first time since
hitting the road in support of 1996’s mega Under The Bushes, Under The Stars that the core membership of Pollard’s hometown “Monument Club” has shared a
stage. But they’d probably just prefer it to be thought of as a bunch of
fifty-something guys out for another lap.
“We have to get in shape to
go on tour now,” Pollard confessed to the audience at The Warfield in San Francisco. “No eating
pasta!” By the looks of it, the diehards could understand, having downed as
many beers, for as long a time. Smaller in numbers, but appropriately more
energetic, was a younger generation of fans that wouldn’t be much older than
Matador itself. All the same, the sea of bodies didn’t miss a beat in letting
out a collective roar when Demos’ plucked out the riff to “A Salty Salute,” the
anthemic opener from Alien Lanes.
With old friends at a
wingspan’s reach, Pollard’s come back down to earth as a frontman. Tobin Sprout
shared the mic and the spotlight. Rather than worshipping at the alter of Bob,
there was a shared devotion to dozens of well-crafted, balls-out rock tunes
that the band clearly cherishes as much as the fans. The grand sense of the
event had a feeling more alive than nostalgia but hard to peg as anything else.
Lesser known tracks “Matter
Eater Lad” and “My Impression Now” didn’t resonate deep into the crowd; it’s a
hits tour, despite not having any. The mad surges of bodies twisting and voices
reaching continued from the opening into “Shocker In Gloomtown” and “Tractor
Rape Chain,” and held up well into the encore. “Echos Myron” found Pollard
dominating the musical breaks, pushing the momentum over the edge. Actual
pogoing took place, leading to the appropriate shouts of “All fall down!” near
the song’s end.
Like Pixies have decided,
GBV could happily and successfully live out the following years touring on a
time capsule of great songs. There will always be an audience for it. For them,
finding a substitute hasn’t been easy. And shit yeah, it’s cool.