review by Michael Beck
photos by Caitlin Enwright
Despite the torrential rain, a block-long line stood resiliently with cheerful spirits when I arrived at Showbox SoDo. Times New Viking had just taken the stage, a 3-member grunge-pop band from Columbus, Ohio. Their set consisted of mostly 4/4 guitar-driven rock paired with charming shared vocals by keyboardist/guitarist Beth Murphy and drummer Adam Elliott. The highlight of their set was a track titled “Teenage Lust!” in which the lyrics of the beguiling chorus denote angst and uncertainty in today’s fast-moving society: “I don’t want to die in the city alone.”
It was understood by everyone, including Times New Viking (who started a “G-b-V” chant as their set ended) that Guided by Voices was the reason people showed up. As soon as Times New Viking left the stage, an omnipresent and somewhat Big Brother-esque voice began narrating philosophies and stories, while every now and then an eruption of recorded crowd noise quelled the voice. An illuminated sign reading “The Club is” hung stage right which became “OPEN” amidst fanaticism when Robert Pollard and GbV took stage.
Reuniting the “classic” members of GbV’s unanimously agreed-upon best years (’92-’96), there was scarcely a break for the whole 2+ hour set. Pollard, who has had a quasi-cult following for decades, looked surprisingly spry at 52 years young. There was something miraculous about seeing a man of his age drink like he did (red party cups of tequila passed around the crowd and a bucket of beer on stage) while doing toe kicks and swinging the mic around with expertise. Pollard and guitarist Charles “Mitch” Mitchell chain-smoked for the whole set. The crowd relished every moment, screaming when every song was announced by Pollard (“This is fillinaGbVsonghere”) and not missing a chance to communally sing along to the songs of their youth. Fittingly, Pollard referred to the audience as “kids,” adding a family dynamic and accepting his role as a father figure and role model to these children of the previous millennium.
The briefness of GbV tracks complimented the overall set length — it must have been at least a 30 song set, most all fan favorites. Perhaps the high point of the concert was the infectious energy that crammed the venue from the moment that GbV took stage. The somewhat ambiguous nature of GbV lyrics allowed each and every audience member to project their own personal feelings and meanings back upon the band itself, something that Pollard and Co. completely thrived in. Examples include the 42-second track “Pimple Zoo” (“Sometimes I get the feeling / That you don’t want me around”) and “Quality of Armor” (“Oh yeah going to drive my car / Oh yeah going to go real far”). Additionally, GbV played several of Tobin Sprout’s songs while Pollard was off backstage. The concert concluded with not one encore, but three. This was certainly a special night for fans of GbV and GbV themselves, who sounded as good as ever.
It rained harder after the show than before. Even so, dozens and dozens of fans, many that drove down from Canada or up from Oregon stood outside and reminisced about their GbV heyday. The sense of community, shared memories and experiences resulted in enthralling and excited conversation that inevitably ended in the night continuing long after the music stopped.