San Francisco, CA
Oct. 5th, 2010
8 out of 10
In an effort to cross-off more names from my bucket list of bands I need to see before my time on this mortal coil comes to a close, I'm finding band reunions to be indispensable. Earlier this year, it was the Pixies, then came Pavement in Portland. And now this: the original line-up of Guided by Voices in all their drunken, swaggering glory.
I remember a time when bands reuniting and hitting the road was cause for slapping your hand over your face and shaking your head in embarrassment for whatever medieval wrinkly trolls decided to come out of the woodwork, reclaim what ever faded sock-stuffing glory they once had, while touring carnivals or state fairs just long enough to afford a new addition to their house or sustain their coke habit (for some reason, Night Ranger comes immediately to mind here). Now that I'm older, however, the reunification of those indie bands I love(d) so much in the 90's and Oughts is a cause celebration, if for no other reason than most of these acts still got it.
Guided By Voices is one such band. Robert Pollard may be pushing 50, but this dude can still fuck shit up like a champ. Given that it's been six years since Guided By Voices officially broke up, the throng of the band's loyal fans both old and new chanting and cheering during this Tuesday night set illustrated just how admired and adored this lovably scrappy lo-fi indie band from Dayton, Ohio still is.
In the years leading up to Guided By Voices ultimate demise, the bands shows were considered by its fans - much like their then more recent albums - to be lackluster and by-the-numbers. Pollard, being the only original member left possibly felt the same, and officially disbanded Guided By Voices after the release of their final studio album, Half Smiles Of the Decomposed (which is still, in my opinion, highly underrated). Years of internal strife, infighting and covering Cobra Verte in a GBV tarp had seemingly taken it's toll on a band with three decades of maddening-to-collect output. Pollard put the band to rest in 2004.
But then Matador Records turned 21 this year, and suddenly it seemed like a great time to get this labels two flagship acts (Pavement and Guided By Voices) back together and out on the road for reunion shows. And what reunion shows they were: both bands have seemingly re-emerged recharged and refreshed, and in the appearances I witnessed of both, ready to put on stellar live shows.
Guided By Voices don't fuck around. When the "classic line-up" emerged on the stage, the Warfield's capacity crowd went apeshit. Pollard, Tobin Spout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennell and Greg Demos all took their positions and proceeded to rock the fuck out of their adoring fans. It was as if the last couple of years never happened; this was the energetic and inebriated Guided By Voices fans have come to know and love.
The band blasted through classics like "I Am A Scientist," "Motor Away," "My Valuable Hunting Knife," "Gold Star For Robot Boy," and "Cut-Out Witch" (among many, many more classics) with a beer-fueled intensity that I can only imagine left the opening band (and Matador label-mates), Times New Viking, who watched the show from stage left, agape and taking notes on stage dynamics and performance. Robert Pollard, who seemingly took the stage while intoxicated, downed at least seven or eight cold ones from the on-stage ice chest, yet never missed a beat, microphone twirl or high kick.
In between this rousing set, Tobin Sprout took center stage, performing not only some of the songs GBV songs he'd previously written, but his own solo material as well. Pollard, for his part, would take rest breaks, either sitting on the drum kit's platform, or exiting the stage all-together to possibly take a much needed leak. This proved effective, not just for possibly relieving Pollard's bladder, but for rousing the audience when he re-emerged on-stage: the guy's got an energy and gravity all his own.
A brilliant set of course begets not one, not two, but three encores - each better than the last. When the lights finally came-up, you got this strange sense that everyone in the audience was leaving The Warfield completely satisfied with the wonderful spectacle they had just witnessed for two+ hours. Strange as it sounds, the normally pretentious and feted San Francisco snobberotty actually seemed grateful to catch this legendary line-up in what might have been the band's last live touring appearance (smile all around with the normally dour, yet beautiful Bay Area dwellers).