>> Guided By Voices announces one night only virtual concert filmed in Dayton
Here are some tips to help prepare you for the virtual event:
Guided By Voices had spring and summer dates canceled due to COVID-19 shutdowns but the band, (left to right) Doug Gillard, Kevin March, Bobby Bare Jr., Mark Shue and Robert Pollard, is appeasing fans with a virtual concert, being presented online at 5 p.m. Friday, July 17. CONTRIBUTED
The first thing to know is there are a lot of releases in the world of Robert Pollard. And I mean a lot. In addition to dozens of singles and EPs, “Mirrored Aztec,” coming out Aug. 21, is the 30th Guided By Voices album since “Devil Between My Toes” (1987). There are more than 20 solo albums, 14 full-lengths by Circus Devils and six each from Boston Spaceships and Ricked Wicky. Plus, there are dozens of other releases under names like Nightwalker, Acid Ranch, Airport 5, Lifeguards, Teenage Guitar and Psycho and the Birds.
This staggering output is fitting for the man who long ago named his publishing company Needmore Songs. This was not just a shoutout to the road in Pollard’s Northridge neighborhood, but also an acknowledgment that his hunger to write new material could never be fully satiated.
With more than 100 full-lengths in Pollard’s recorded discography, it can be hard to know where to start. The good news is, to get primed for the streaming concert, you really just need to be familiar with material from the proper Guided By Voices releases. While Pollard has been known to include a song or two from his side projects and some unreleased numbers during GBV concerts, the live set usually features a mix of newer cuts and older fan favorites. You can save a deep dive into the solo albums and side projects for another time.
Luckily for you, I’ve been following the band since before the release of the debut EP, “Forever Since Breakfast,” in 1986. I also played drums on a few records in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I’m happy to help you navigate the rich, eclectic musical terrain of Guided By Voices.
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When spring and summer concerts for Guided By Voices were canceled due to COVID-19 shutdown, Robert Pollard decided to appease fans with a virtual concert, being presented online at 5 p.m. Friday, July 17. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY SARAH ZADE POLLARD
Pollard has rightfully received plenty of respect for his incredible output, but those numbers would be hollow if he didn’t have the material to back it up. And this guy can write, churning out memorable songs at an incredible rate. Guided By Voices was known at first for home-recorded, lo-fi songs that relied on his uncanny knack for creating earworm melodies, a desire to experiment and the ability to capture unfettered moments of inspiration.
It’s not that the former school teacher and his musical cohorts didn’t know how to play their instruments, it’s that Pollard likes to work quickly and move on to the next idea. And there are always more ideas so documenting a new song is more important than fretting about crystalline fidelity and musical virtuosity. This approach has kept Guided By Voices off the Billboard charts but endeared the group to legions of fans that snatch up every new release from Pollard’s Guided By Voices Inc. imprint.
To prep for the live show, a good entry point is “Do the Collapse” (1999). Unlike earlier garage and basement recordings, this album, the first of two released by TVT Records, has the big-studio polish you expect from production by Ric Ocasek of the Cars. Despite the gloss, the pop-rock songs with giant hooks still have some of the prog-rock weirdness and obtuse lyrics that helped make the group indie rock darlings earlier in the decade.
After that, try “Human Amusement at Hourly Rates,” an excellent compilation featuring a cross-section of tracks from albums released between 1987 and 2003. There is a tiny overlap with “Do the Collapse” but the 32 songs give you a sense of what the band was like in the early days.
If you’re hungry for more from that era, each album is worth a listen but start with “Self-Inflected Aerial Nostalgia” (1989), “Bee Thousand” (1994) and “Earthquake Glue” (2003). If you like what you hear, there is an abundance of music to explore from this period. The group broke up in 2004 and reformed in 2010 after a six-year hiatus to release another run of essential records, but that’s a story for another time.
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The virtual concert should feature plenty of songs from the recent run of excellent records featuring the current lineup, which I’ll get into momentarily. Of the new material, start with the latest album, “Surrender Your Poppy Field,” which was released on Feb. 20. It’s a crazy good collection of songs and a solid representation of GBV circa 2020.
From there, dig heavily into the releases of the past four years like “August By Cake” (2017), “Space Gun” (2018) and “Zeppelin Over China” (2019). The lo-fi days are behind the group, which is fitting for this collection of musicians, but it retains Pollard’s idiosyncratic sonic tendencies.
Digging into these albums is undoubtedly a big undertaking but if you invest the time, you’ll be glad you did. Most of Pollard’s output is available on the major streaming platforms so you can sample at your own discretion.
ARENA ROCK POWER
The early excitement of Guided By Voices in the early 1990s was based on the fact these weirdo rock geeks from Ohio had self-released a series of underappreciated but enigmatic albums that drew equally from the British Invasion, ’60s psychedelia, power-pop, prog-rock and post-punk. However, that’s only the beginning of the story.
The group’s profile was already on the rise after a stint with indie label Scat Records took the music to a wider audience. The legend was solidified by a now-famous live approach that brought arena rock bombast to clubs across the country. From the moment Guided By Voices took the stage for its first show in years in front of hipster musicians and industry tastemakers at the New Music Seminar in New York in 1993, nothing would ever be the same.
Word quickly spread that these older cats brought a level of energy and excitement that was sorely missing from a lot of the too-cool-for-school acts of the era. That fact was driven home repeatedly as the scrappy band from Ohio converted fans night after night, club to club, delivering marathon sets of boozy, high-octane rock ’n’ roll buoyed by Pollard’s infectious sing-along melodies.
The onstage consumption of beer and liquor has had a big place in the notorious history of the band. Pollard is a social drinker and he made that part of his onstage schtick early on to hide his nervousness. Thirty years later, alcohol is still a big part of the show, whether the musicians are pulling beers from a cooler or someone offstage is handing up a bottle of tequila for a celebratory chug.
Sure, the shows could get sloppy at times, but there are plenty of hardcore fans that will swear that’s part of the appeal. Like the early home-recordings, the ramshackle, anything-can-happen elements of their live set only added to the charm. It also brought a certain level of danger, which, let’s face it, has been an integral ingredient for celebrated rock bands since the 1950s.
While there is still drinking on stage, it’s subdued. GBV’s reconstituted “Classic Lineup” fizzled out in 2014 and two years later Pollard decided to rebuild the band from the ground up with a super-charged lineup with the stamina and moral fortitude to withstand nightly three-hour sets.
He brought back a pair of workhorses from other incarnations, longtime guitarist Doug Gillard and powerhouse drummer Kevin March. The addition of Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar) and Mark Shue (bass) round out what is possibly the strongest group of players in the long history of the band.
It’s certainly hard to beat the beloved members of the past, who are all super-talented, but this current crew is well-seasoned and primed for rock. I’ve attended several dozen Guided By Voices shows since the mid-’80s and I can honestly say this lineup kills it night after night.
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While attending a GBV concert won’t be possible for some time, this streaming event should remind you of the power and glory of live rock ’n’ roll. That’s something all music fans could use during such uncertain times.
Grab your favorite beverage and log onto the streaming event for an at-home concert experience. As GBV fans are fond of saying, “The club is open.”
More info: www.guidedbyvoices.com