We had tickets to see Guided By Voices at The Cat’s Cradle this October 2020. Their tour, like everyone else’s tours, has been cancelled due to the pandemic. So I was quite happy to hear that GBV had decided to do a livestream show for the amplified-to rock faithful. From their local club in Dayton, Ohio, The Brightside, they produced a rock show with great sound, lights, cameras and almost no crowd in the audience.
I’ve seen GBV in a few incarnations, but this current band is probably the strongest lineup, featuring terrific drummer Kevin March, bassist Mark Shue, rhythm guitarist Bobby Bare Jr, and the amazing guitar wizardry of Doug Gillard. This was the most I’ve paid ($25) for a streaming show to date, but GBV certainly gave you value for money. They started up a little rough, and I won’t pretend to be familiar with all the material (GBV alone just released their 30th LP, Mirrored Aztec), but around the fourth song ‘Everybody Thinks I’m A Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)’ they hit a perfect groove. This Half Smiles Of The Decomposed track is a superb, classic song, power-pop and pop-rock folded into a perfect confection.
Mirrored Aztec was represented with ‘To Keep An Area,’ a more pensive, classic 70’s type song. By this point in the show, GBV frontman/leader/singer ‘Uncle Bob’ Pollard was getting his vocals together, and there is no doubt that he has one of the best voices in indie rock today. One big surprise was lead guitarist Doug Gillard was not playing his black Gibson Les Paul Custom (a guitar he has owned since he was seventeen and that has absolutely no finish left on the back of the neck). Tonight he played what looked to be an older, red Gibson ES-330 guitar, much like an Epiphone Casino, which is completely hollow. It sounded great.
‘Twilight Campfire’ from Isolation Drills had a late 60’s feel, a bit like a Zombies song, another pearl in the Pollard collection. About 15 songs in, they hit ‘Motor Away,’ an old classic from Alien Lanes that I have played in a number of bands. Even without the crowd, GBV were tearing it up. This continued with the uptempo ‘I Am A Tree’ from Mag Earwhig!, a showcase for Gillard’s guitar and March on drums, with bassist Shue using his white (Dee Dee Ramone looking) Fender Precision bass to great effect.
Bob, working on his kicks and kung fu moves, led GBV through a punishing, apocalyptic ‘Cut Out Witch’ from Under The Bushes Under The Stars. The recent ‘Man Called Blunder’ sounded great next to the older tunes. ‘Chasing Heather Crazy’ from Isolation Drills is another one of those super-pop tunes Pollard slips right by you. This is a Beatles-level thing of wonder. This was quickly followed by the 70’s sleaze of Bee Thousand’s ‘Hot Freaks,’ Pollard strutting around like Lou or Bowie.
Pollard and Gillard played ‘Drinker’s Peace’ from Same Place The Fly Got Smashed, pretty and surprisingly delicate. They were 28 songs in when they hit ‘Glad Girls’ from Isolation Drills, a total earworm not unlike Cheap Trick. Next up was ‘The Rally Boys’ from Zeppelin Over China, in which all five members sang on. Bee Thousand’s ‘Tractor Rape Chain’ was given a majestic, wonderful power-pop arrangement, no lo-fi treatment here. This was followed by ‘The Official Ironman Rally Song’ from Under The Bushes Under The Stars, where Pollard used his remarkable voice to great advantage. ‘Blue Jay House’ from the recent Warp And Woof had the feel of a 60’s spy film theme.
‘The Best Of Jill Hives’ from Earthquake Glue was a great choice, followed by the superb pop of ‘Jane Of The Waking Universe’ from Mag Earwhig!, a fantastic mix of The Hollies and baroque pop. By song number 46, they played a powerful version of Bee Thousand’s ‘Echos Myron,’ kind of an unofficial history of the band. The last four songs were the amazing ‘Teenage FBI’ from Do The Collapse, a complete earworm, then ‘The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory’ from Bee Thousand, a pretty ballad that’s always been a GBV favorite. Alien Lanes ‘Game Of Pricks’ may be the best, catchiest song Pollard has written, and that is saying a lot. The band finished up with Bee Thousand’s ‘I Am A Scientist:’
I am a pharmacist
Prescriptions I will fill you
Potions, pills and medicines
To ease your painful lives
I am a lost soul
I shoot myself with rock & roll
The hole I dig is bottomless
But nothing else can set me free
There you have it. 52 songs, two and a half hours. There can be no doubt that Guided By Voices are as important, vital, and inspirational as ever. Bob Pollard is thought of as an elder statesman, but this guy and his band will kick your ass. It’s not just the sheer output of their material, it's the sustained quality. He is a master of rock songwriting, and his band is incredible,
Long live GBV!