It should seem a little strange to see a gray-haired singer for a rock & roll band guzzling beers and doing occasional leg kicks while fronting an alternative band. But Guided By Voices is not your usual alternative rock band. Led by Robert Pollard, this is one group that always seems to defy easy categorization. With their power-pop mixed with British Invasion sonic base, they sound like almost every band you’ve ever loved, but not a single one you can name as a singular definitive influence.
Songs like “Back to the Lake” had the crowd smiling and bobbing their heads, from beginning to end. And this is a band that regularly squeezes 50+ songs into its set on a nightly basis, primarily because songs are short and sweet. No extended jam band workouts for this unit. Two and three minutes, and then out.
This tour has welcomed back longtime guitarist Doug Gillard into the fold. It also features Bobby Bare, Jr. on rhythm guitar. Bare, the son of a country legend, is a wonderful singer/songwriter/producer in his own right. However, with Guided By Voices, he’s taken on a relative subservient role. He didn’t seem to mind this diminished position, however, as he appeared to by happily flailing away on his electric guitar throughout the night and shaking his head with joy.
When Pollard sings his complicated little songs, he sometimes comes off like a wise, elder psychedelic mystic. He performed “Arrows and Balloons,” which is actually one of his solo recordings, and came off like a school teacher trying out rock & roll as a cooler way to transfer information to willingly open student minds.
Guided By Voices saved “I Am a Scientist,” perhaps their best known song, till near the end of the concert. But unlike most concerts, where the big songs get loud, excited cheers of appreciation, this performance was greeted only slightly more excitedly than the rest of the set list. This is because Guided By Voices fans are – like their beloved band – not typical. They know the album deep cuts just as well as radio songs. At one point during the set, Pollard gave brief history of the band’s extended label associations. While he did so, audience members in front corrected him when he’d forgotten a few. They knew his career just about as well as he did.
Attending a Guided By Voices show can be a little bit like going to a sci-fi convention with a few of your nerdiest friends. Part of the fun is knowing that your mainstream music fan friends just won’t get it. This is a special band for a select audience; One that is happily guided by wherever these voices choose to take them.