On May 17 at Mr. Small’s Funhouse in Millvale, PA, the bands from O-HI-O shattered the notion that rock ‘n’ roll is the domain of the youth.
BY MIKE SHANLEY
It’s official: Rock ‘n roll, that youthful indulgence, does not belong to the younger set anymore. Let the kids have their Mileys and Gagas and the rest of the pre-fab pop stars. The rest of you, never trust anyone under 30 to rock hard.
And this isn’t an attempt to elevate the Rolling Stones, Sir Paul, the Monkees or even Flo & Eddie (who I’d love to see this summer on their tour with Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron and Mark Farner, were they not performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and charging symphony ticket prices).
Guided by Voices is now a band marked by silver hair, center baldness, or in the case of new drummer Kevin March, an inadvertent homage to Spirit’s Ed Cassidy in both dome and performance. Bassist Greg Demos’ white shirt, pudding bowl hair (yes, it’s still all there), black vest and size recall another Greg that played bass in a band that bore his last surname, sandwiched between two other arty wanks. But Mr. D was no wank as he stomped around the stage, alternately hulking over his instrument and holding it aloft at a 90-degree angle. In short, the band looked like a bunch of dads who want to live in the musical past. And while they definitely went back to glories of 20 years ago (when they released breakthrough album Bee Thousand), they also unleashed a cooler’s worth of new songs that rock just as hard.
On this Saturday night at Millvale, PA, club Mr. Small’s Funhouse, GbV’s Robert Pollard said early on that the band had “48 pop ditties” which they were going to take two- to two-and-a-half hours to play, and that wasn’t just drunk talk. The chicken scratch on my note pad documented at least 45 songs, and there were probably a few that didn’t get written down. As far as timing, Pollard was right on the money: the first of three encores came right at the two-hour mark. He probably would have gone on longer if, as he explained to the “ladies and chennel-men” in the audience, that those swigs from the Tequila bottle had him at the brink of passing out during encore three.
Comparing GbV to Bruce Springsteen might be a stretch, but the Boss comes to mind when thinking about other acts that step onstage and kick it out. Guided by Voices inspires the same kind of fanaticism too. Spellbound audience members stared at each other, singing along to “Echos Myron.” Dudes were hugging dudes during “Gold Star for Robot Boy.” Somewhere someone was probably admitting, “ohmygodIloooooooooovethissong.” Or more likely, they were pointing at Pollard and unleashing a rabid, “Yeah,” that would rival Howard Dean. The latter scene played out a lot during the show.
Much like Springsteen, Pollard and the crew delivered in spades. At times the set flowed with the precision of a Ramones show, one song seguing into the next with a 1-2-3-4. Tobin Sprout’s guitar wasn’t mixed quite as loud as Mitch Mitchell’s. Nor were his vocals on par with Pollard, who drowned him out when he added back-ups. But it didn’t lessen the overall impact of the set. While Pollard did go off on a few drunken rants (on his beloved Bengals; offering advice for aspiring bands: “Have a title track,” something he seems to have avoided), the babbling seemed a little streamlined in comparison to their September 2012 visit to town.
The encore selections bore a strong resemblance to the previous show. The gentle “Awful Bliss” gave way to “A Salty Salute” and finally “Motor Away.” Yet, when a band is drinking that much onstage (and that wasn’t no Dean Martin-apple-juice-instead-of-booze trick Pollard was doing), the fact that they can hold things together for that long and at that age — remembering lyrics and singing that strong — should earn them respect and cut them slack for taking a similar setlist path.
Had GbV not been so cohesive, they could have easily been blown off the stage by openers Death of Samantha. A product of 1980s Cleveland, the quartet recorded several albums for Homestead Records before parting ways and leading to Cobra Verde (which vocalist John Petkovic continues to spearhead) and becoming a member of GbV Mach II (guitarist Doug Gillard). Just over two years into a reformation, this band should be given star treatment. Their back catalog sounds more current than ever. The opening plod of “Coca-Cola and Licorice,” complete with clarinet wails from Petkovic, started the evening off at a high level. Theatrics, shout-outs to Steel City bands and some of the most incredible guitar solos to emerge from the Rust Belt – the band had it all.
While Petkovic’s mouth, buried under a mop of long curly hair, was clearly the focus of the night, Gillard straddled sweet chords and astounding leads with equal parts taste and crunch. Last song “Couldn’t Forget ‘Bout That (One Item)” lasted for at least 10 minutes, slipping into “Hey Joe,” incorporating dual leads and freestyle vocals. Not a moment was excessive.
Anyone who doesn’t own the long lost Homestead LPs is hereby advised to pick up the recent If Memory Serves Us Well, a 2011 practice session that recreates the earlier energy.