gUIDED bY vOICES / lIVE in Durham, n.c. by Lee Wallace
“The Iodine Book Report (Virtuous Precognitions of the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1972)” is a multi disc compilation of garage, psych, and weirdo pop compiled by Robert Pollard from his own vast collection of rare vinyl (said to number about 22,000 discs). Pollard gave away a few handmade copies to friends. From there it has circulated out among some of the most obsessive Guided By Voices fans, and has also become legendary among vinyl junkies of the psych era in general. Its is a meticulously curated, fascinating map of Pollard's mind and is also a kind of master template of the GBV philosophy. Pollard has made and continues to make records under many names with many collaborators that needle into oddball rock genres and subgenres, but GBV is the realization of the Iodine Book Report as a singular band. GBV is somehow garage, psych, and weirdo pop and retro and new all at once, a celebration of every lysergic moment that a music nerd experiences when the fuzzed out guitar message beams in from Planet 1966 in outer space and sends you into overdrive.
When we arrive at Motorco the pre-show mix tape sounds like it could be yet another volume in the Iodine Book Report series – wild Farfisa organ riffs, stompy drums and tripped out guitar followed by heavenly sunshine pop harmonies and a freaky cover of the Stone's “She's A Rainbow” that somehow sounds more retro than the original, all a kind of religious incantation to set the mood for the show. (Research reveals that some of what we hear is a late 60's UK outfit called The Glass Menagerie, who issued three singles, got some play from John Peel and then vaporized). There is no opening act tonight, so when the smoke machines start piping up (?!!!!) we know it is for GBV.
Although GBV reliably take us from the club to interstellar space over the course of their generous fifty plus song sets, their stage setup is surprisingly sparse. Guitarist Doug Gillard has a fairly modest pedalboard set up – a couple of Boss EQ pedals, a Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive, a Boss Harmonist, nano pedals for chorus and reverb, and the ubiquitous TC Electronics Polytune. Bobby Bare Jr., who mostly power chords through the entire show, has just an Eventide H9 Core and a volume pedal. Mesa Boogie, Marshall, Ampeg and a couple of well worn vintage Gibsons (SG and Les Paul) provide the muscle.
The current line up of Guided By Voices is perhaps the most “professional” sounding version of the band yet, favoring more intricate arrangements and tighter performances over the drunken abandon of yore. Pollard even quips early in the show “Man, we're like Journey!...we're not Journey.” This of course does not stop Motorco from erupting into a frenzy for early appearances of Motor Away and Cut Out Witch, and by the second half of the set the full on mayhem of a beered up GBV audience is in full effect. By this point in GBV's existence, they can play virtually anything from the past twenty plus years of GBV released output, and even choice songs from Pollard's solo albums, and set lists vary greatly from night to night. The band usually follows the ritual of new songs up front and “classics” and fan favorites in the second half, and towards the very end the songs that have become the de rigeuer anthems of every GBV set like “Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory” and “Tractor Rape Chain”. A fan at an Asheville show a few years ago cleverly described these to me as “the Marilyn Monroe songs” of GBV, i.e. “there's no way you wouldn't do them!”
Many fans already appear to be quite in tune with the new songs from the double album August By Cake from April of this year and then the even newer How Do You Spell Heaven just released two months ago. There is a bit of a return to the “major label” era style on these new albums, with heavier guitar riffs and even some prog elements, and these songs sound fantastic on stage. Peppered among these new ones we get treated to the joyous resurfacing of “Jane Of The Waking Universe” and a roof raising version of “I Am A Tree”, played with a verve that betters the already monumental recorded version.
Pollard, who turns 60 years old at the end of the month (a fact he brought up at least three times during the show) was even more loquacious than usual at Motorco, feeling free to express his opinions about Ted Nugent, Gene Simmons, The Foo Fighters, Trump and Tom Brady (“they suck”, and “fuck 'em”, basically) and recalling that Durham and Chapel Hill have been consistently great shows for GBV throughout their long career. Pollard seemed unusually vulnerable when he wondered aloud “how much longer this is gonna go on” but reassured that he simply intends to keep on as long as capable. He expressed great confidence in new(ish) bass player Mark Shue, affectionately calling him “the next me” before introducing Shue to sing his own composition from the new album – a generous gesture from the hyper prolific Pollard. Though he still downs many, many, many beers during the course of the show and passes around a tequila bottle with “you old people!” in front of the stage, Pollard is much less athletic onstage these days. His trademark high-kick has been passed on to bass player Mark, who executed it brilliantly. Pollard has replaced this with more theatrical hand gestures and audience interaction, and facial expressions that are both humorous and actorly, giving the impression that he has matured as a performer into something far more interesting than the high kicking stadium rocker character we loved in the 90's.
Of course the encore set was a generous and high energy as any lesser band's greatest hits show. The hodgepodge of old and new songs seemed spontaneous and fun, as if the band simply couldn't decide if they were ready to finish the show or not. Two cherished cover songs finished out the night: a wonderfully sweet version of The Monkees' “Saturday's Child” and a rattle-the-rafters stomp through The Who's “Baba O'Riley”.
Yet another new GBV album is on the books apparently, as well as new recordings from Pollard's other projects like the “country” band Cash Rivers and who knows what else for next year.