Guided By Voices (photo: Joshua Huver)
Guided By Voices put on the most punk rock, balls-to-the-wall and loudest show I can ever remember hearing, and the youngest guy in the band is almost 33.
I understood there was an expectation that surrounded this band: Don’t expect much more than loud, fast, emotionally-charged garage music. But dammit if that’s not exactly what the second consecutive sold out crowd at The Independent got last Tuesday night, August 23.
Robert Pollard recognized the devotion of the crowd while sharing a bottle with the band: “I love San Francisco,” said Pollard. “Who else would sell out a show on a Monday and Tuesday? Only you guys. That’s why we play these clubs. For you!”
After initially disbanding in 2004, rebanding in 2010 for six albums, and then disbanding again in 2014, GBV announced they were getting back together earlier this year. Joining Pollard this time around was Bobby Bare Jr. on guitar, Mark Shue on Bass, Kevin March on drums, and, as of just over one month ago, guitarist Doug Gillard, who rejoined team GBV after spending the last five years rounding out indie-rock ourfit Nada Surf.
From 9:30pm until 11:40pm, Pollard led his perfectly assembled ensemble of musicians through 44 — yes, forty-four — one-and-a-half to three-minute long songs. I stopped counting the encore selection after the fifth song, which was really the first song of the second encore. All in all, there were close to 52 different songs played across one set, and two encores with plenty of time for banter.
As soon as the lights went down for the band to take the stage, a loud and thundering chant quickly took over the room: “GEE BEE VEE! GEE BEE VEE!” These were die-hard veterans of the plug in, play fast, and spit it out mentality reliving some of their greatest moments. Inside The Independent, it was like a time warp to an inter-dimensional Midwestern Grog Shop where punk rock never died.
Fans were treated to a little bit of everything in Pollard’s 2,200-plus song catalog. Pollard is an enigmatic man with a storied history that is not limited to GBV — in fact, GBV is one of 33 official projects that he is involved with. Spread out among the GBV favorites were songs from several of these other projects with multiple introductions for tunes by Boston Spaceships, a group that is neither from Boston nor spacey.
Following Boston Spaceships’ “Come On Baby Grace,” Pollard acknowledged that even doing this gig thing as often and as long as he does, he can still get nervous. Introducing “Subspace Biographies” from 1998’s Waved Out, Pollard admitted that they chickened out on playing it the previous night, inadvertently raising the stakes of the rest of the performance.
Throughout the show, Pollard was exceptionally grateful.”Thank you Guided By Voices fans, we appreciate your patience the last 33 years, we make music and you bear with it,” Pollard said late in the set, between the 36th and 37th tunes of the evening. “We play places like this cause people like you support it, we play our new records with an equal enthusiasm as the old records, clap for the new songs.”
One of the most impressive aspects of the evening was not just the rubber-room energy of Pollard, who jumped as high as he could, spinning, kicking and yelling, but the variety across each track. Yes, it was characteristically punk rock in attitude and song — but only to a point — inasmuch as it is simply a flag that says I’m going to put out whatever the hell I want to, how I want to, whether anyone else likes it or not. The same way Joe Strummer, or Madlib might approach a live appearance. There is so much creativity hiding in his noise, which in itself is a dangerous move.
I left slightly before the very end in order to beat the en masse departure and it was not until I was actually outside that the scope of how loud it actually was hit me. What was pure, volume-distorted, rock-and-roll mush inside was crystal-clear and audible across the street and around the corner. Although the action was inside The Independent, it can’t be too often that the people on the street outside have the more crisp audio reception.
Do yourselves a favor and do not sleep on Guided By Voices the next time they come around (or any Robert Pollard project, for that matter).