Guided by Voices
September 29, 2010
Better than: watching almost any other group of men in their 50s get drunk in front of a large number of people.
It's been 16 years since the "classic" line-up of Guided By Voices graced the stage together, and, apparently, the band thought Wednesday's crowd at the Palladium Showroom in Dallas could still wait a bit longer.
As the house lights went out in preparation for the band's set, a recording began playing over the loudspeakers--some kind of recorded message of correspondences for moving services or travel bureaus for men looking for apartments or homes.
The messages culminated with one describing a character in retirement, who experiences an awakening. And, after 10 minutes of lifeless voices and clips of a President Obama speech edited to say, "We were Guided By Voices," the band finally took the stage for an adoring, if surprisingly small, crowd.
But when the "The Club Is Open" sign lit up, and when the band launched into "A Salty Salute" to begin what would be almost two hours of music, the half-capacity crowd filled the space with their cheers and cries to their heroes.
The message was clear: Yes, we hung it up at one point (to varying degrees), but we've been offered another chance, and we're back.
In fact, lead singer Robert Pollard wasted no time in showing off his trademark leaps and leg kicks to the crowd, sending many turning to their friends in awed laughter and elbow nudges, as if to say, "Can you believe he can still do it?"
Yet it was the entire band that was energized and soaking up every moment, every chance to play Rock Star in front of their fans one more time.
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While all parties involved were, well, making a party out of things, it was evident at times that this was the first night of the tour--something Pollard even acknowledged while half-apologizing to the crowd and to the City of Dallas for using this date as a practice gig. Wonky chords rang out on multiple occasions, and a couple of songs--including a particularly disastrous "Motor Away"--had to be completely restarted. At one point, Pollard even held up his setlist and turned it over, revealing lyrics "in case [he] forgot some".
Still, he was surprisingly steady and in fine voice, holding the melodies as stably as he held his Miller Lites.
And, while Pollard is mainly known for overindulging on stage, it appeared that guitarist Mitch Mitchell was the main offender this night--especially as he called out to Dallas' "hot mamas".
Those rough edges--and frequently brilliant music--are what makes Guided By Voices so endearing. They represent so many great bands that were never able to fulfill their promise while still active, but can only be enjoyed in hindsight, like Flamin' Groovies or Big Star. They were able to live it.
And as Mitch Mitchell clasped drummer Kevin Fennell's hand while Pollard and Tobin Sprout sang "14 Cheerleader Coldfront," they seemed just as glad to be back as anyone.
Show opener Times New Viking fulfilled their role well, counting down each song they played so the crowd knew just how much longer they'd have to wait for Guided By Voices. It's a tough position to be in, but I doubt the kids in Times New Vikings are bothered considering the number of high-profile opening slots they've filled this year. They're a decent enough little indie band with a few catchy tunes, but most of their set was lost in a tinny cacophony of treble-y, brittle guitars and clanging cymbals. They've fallen into the trap of thinking that bass guitar isn't that important, so they left that out of the band. As a consequence, they also left out any depth or definition to their music as a whole.
Personal Bias: I'm late to the party when it comes to Guided By Voices. I've only gotten into their music after they ceased being an active band, but they seemed to always lurk in the background as I grew up and discovered more and more music. I may not have been the biggest GBV fan in attendance, but it was no less enjoyable to see.
Random Note: Could the Palladium Showroom/Gilley's--the space where Guided By Voices played last night--have any more names or be more hidden from plain sight?
By The Way: Late-period GBV guitarist Doug Gillard played a free after party at The Loft, and his set might have given GBV's a run for its money. His solo stuff is quite strong.
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Set List (courtesy of The Synaptic):
Shocker in gloomtown
Tractor rape chain
Closer you are
Buzzards and dreadful crows
A good Flying bird
My valuable Hunting knife
CuT out witch
Striped white jets
Yeah he's bad
Gold heart mountaintop queen directory
Watch me jumpstart
14 cheerleader cold front
Quality of armor
Gold star for robot boy
Dodging invisible rays
Queen of cans & jars
Unleashed the large hearted boy
My impression now
I am a scientist
My son cool
Game of pricks
Smothered in hugs
Don't stop now
Jar of cardinals
Some drilling implied