Concert Reviews

Guided by Voices Never Pander

Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices is one of the most prolific songwriters of all time, registering over 1,900 songs in his career. On Saturday night, at the Summit Music Hall, Pollard dug deep into his massive catalogue, performing fifty of those songs with a new Guided by Voices lineup. 

Denver group Strange Americans opened the show, performing with the energy and exuberance that fans have come to expect. With Jeff Rady, a local music teacher and session player, filling in on bass, the group performed songs from previous releases That Kind of Luster and A Royal Battle as well as unreleased songs that they have been recording in Denton, Texas with Centro-Matic drummer Matt Pence. Strange Americans is one of best bands in Denver and continue to impress with each performance. 
After a strong set by Safe Boating Is No Accident, Guided by Voices took the stage and began its marathon performance. 

Pollard, stoic and steadfast, was backed by a new lineup fleshed out by Kevin March (drums), Nick Mitchell (guitar) , Mark Shue (bass) and Bloodshot recording artist Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar). While the group was initially marred with feedback issues,  once this was rectified, the set was relentless and song after song were delivered in rapid succession, starting with "Not Behind the Fighter Jet" and "Piss Face" from Pollard's Wicked Ricky project.
The band played songs from  all over Pollard's thirty-year catalogue, including several songs from Guided by Voices' newest album Please be Honest. Before the song "Hotel X (Big Soap)," Pollard told the crowd "We're gonna be playing a lot of old songs, but you have to pretend to show equal enthusiasm for the new ones." While Please be Honest is a strong album,  Pollard's request was largely ignored and the new songs did not resonate as much as classic Guided by Voices songs like "Tractor Rape Chain" and "Game of Pricks." 

While Pollard is arguably solely responsible for the Guided by Voices sound, on stage he plays the role of entertainer and front man and less of a band leader. While there were fleeting moments of interaction with his bandmates, Pollard did little directing of his newly formed group and instead seemed to defer to Mitchell who kept the musical portion and performance on track. Bare Jr., who only recently joined the band, seemed to be having the time of his life,  bobbing around playfully and shouting lyrics into Shue's face who laughed and playfully shrugged away. 

The band tore through song after song including "What Are All Those Paint Men Digging?," "The Official Ironmen Rally Song," and the beautifully penned "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory"  from 1994's Bee Thousand album. Time between songs was brief and Pollard continued to have beers brought to him, consuming them in between lyrical breaks. While the level of alcohol consumed by Pollard may have affected most performers, it did not seem to disrupt Pollard in the slightest.  It may have, however, contributed to his rant about the Rolling Stones and the subsequent "Fuck the Stones" chant that the audience gleefully participated in. 

Ending the initial set with "Of Course You Are," the band returned for two encores that included a cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and ended with the usual closer "A Salty Salute," which had the audience shouting the line that GBV has become the most synonymous with: "The Club is open."

Earlier in the set, Pollard joked that the performance was "Springsteenesque," and when it was all said and done, the total set time exceeded two-and-a-half hours. While the differences between Pollard and Bruce Springsteen are many, what ultimately separates Guided by Voices from larger arena acts is not the quality of music, the poetry of the lyrics or the on stage theatrics, but the attitude. Whereas Springsteen is warm and open, inviting his listeners in, Pollard is sardonic and cynical, performing his songs without a general concern for anyone's opinion of them. There is no pandering during a Guided by Voices set. 

It is this attitude that may have held Pollard back at certain points throughout his career, but is what also makes him mythic and strangely lovable. He is a classic "anti-frontman"  and is un-replicable, unapologetic and a treasure that fans and artists at every level should be thankful for.