The large-hearted boy is unleashed once more – Guided By Voices’ return to the UK is long overdue, and do they ever know how to mark the occasion.
Seventeen years since their last visit to these shores, Robert Pollard and the latest line-up of this notoriously fluid collective barrel through a 53-song set list with rambunctious style and no little chutzpah. The bulk of the material on display comes from this year’s jam-packed albums ‘Zeppelin Over China’ and ‘Warp And Woof’ (another 56 new cuts for the most overworked fanbase in indie rock) – but there’s good news for veteran GBV obsessives hoping for a retread of the band’s 90s classics, as their patience is duly rewarded with a healthy dollop of magnificently beery singalongs.
Old favourites from ‘Bee Thousand’ and ‘Alien Lanes’ slot comfortably alongside the Townshendian bent of guitarist Doug Gillard’s deft arrangements, and bring out the best elements of Uncle Bob’s gleeful rock god posturing – all of which is lapped up raucously by a buzzing Village Underground.
In the nearly two decades since they last blessed these isles (which Pollard refers to as “home” thanks to the deliberately anglicised twang of his vocal styling), much has happened in the world of GBV. They disbanded in 2004, as the main man’s release schedule truly kicked into fifth gear (a rate of up to four albums a year feels somewhat fitting for a man so prolific he’s also been able to drop four quadruple-LP collections of otherwise-unreleased, vault-clearing oddities), then in 2010, the ‘classic’ mid-90s line-up returned to the fray, spawning a further six collections that occasionally challenged the glory of their old favourites.
Naturally, they split up again four years later. With this latest incarnation, however – completed by Bobby Bare Jr on guitar and the formidable rhythm section of Mark Shue and Kevin March – GBV seem to have hit their stride once more, as heroically illustrated by soaring new crowd favourites ‘The Rally Boys’ and ‘My Future In Barcelona’.
Ok, not everything meshes perfectly. The jagged shimmer of ‘Angelic Weirdness’ doesn’t quite catch the light as magnificently as on record, while the sheer heft of midpaced future barnstormers from ‘Zeppelin…’ can occasionally feel like a slight barrier to momentum.
But of course, it wouldn’t be GBV if there wasn’t a little salt slipped in with the sugar, and fortunately ‘Your Lights Are Out’ and ‘Dead Liquor Store’ slot in seamlessly, perfectly punctuating the moments when the party truly begins; the biggest cheers are naturally reserved for the oldies, which come spattered hither and thither before dominating a glorious finale.
The crowd chant “Gee! Bee! Vee!” relentlessly between songs, but it’s ‘Your Name Is Wild’ that first sends them into rowdy heaven, with drinks flying and fists in the air, while a one-two combo of ‘I Am A Scientist’ into ‘Shocker In Gloomtown’ is pure euphoria. The mass singalong for ‘Bee Thousand’ ballad ‘The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory’ is the evening’s truly transcendental moment, as strangers put their arms around each other’s shoulders and hold their heads back, eyes closed, to belt out the song’s stridently beautiful hook.
During the encore, meanwhile, it feels like the pogo-ing throng has absorbed the entire room, with the audience (mostly male, mostly middle-aged, but scarcely content to stroke beards at the back of the room) as key to the whole affair as the band.
One thought that’s difficult to shake: Pollard is now 61, and given his still-prodigious (albeit mercifully toned down) booze consumption as well as an absence of the high-kicking stage presence of yore, you wonder how much longer he can continue to do this. He assures us there’ll be no let-up to his dizzying workrate, adding that they’ll continue to release multiple new records per year rather than relying exclusively on the old hits (if they did the latter, he quips, “we’d be The Flaming Lips,” before clarifying: “I love to shit-talk”).
In fact, he also promises another GBV album is on its way in October, with another two in the works for 2020. Ultimately, though, as long as they can continue to produce nights as thrilling as this, you suspect he’ll stick by the maxim of another of the show’s stand-out moments: “Don’t stop now.”
They’re finally here – and shit yeah, it’s cool.
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Words: Will Fitzpatrick
For those interested in such things, the set list can be found HERE.
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