the loud bassoon concert scene

Guided By Voices @ Metro, Chicago, USA
21 September 2000

Ask any indie rock hipster and they'll tell you that Guided By Voices stopped being cool at least four years ago. Since then, GBV svengali Robert Pollard has retooled the entire band lineup – twice – and even made an album with Ric Ocasek.

The new stuff is a far cry from "classic" GBV albums like Bee Thousand and Vampire On Titus (the latter of which is completely unlistenable due to the shoddy and often non-existent production, which might be called anti-Ocasek).

Pollard isn't helping his cause by throwing all manner of half-finished shit in his fans' semi-enthusiastic faces. Over the past two years, Pollard has released Kid Marine (a "solo album"), Do The Collapse, Ask Them (credited to Lexo & The Leapers), In Shop We Build Electric Chairs (credited to Nightwalker), Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department, Hold On Hope EP, Dayton Ohio - 19 Something and 5, Big Trouble (by the "Hazzard Hotrods"), and Speedtraps For the Bee Kingdom (by "Howling Wolf Orchestra").

A bewildering amount of music, especially given the fact that the filler quotient on any given GBV release is pitifully high, and indeed, some of these albums suck beyond all comprehension (I'll try to review them all at a later date, so start holding your breath). And now as a "treat" to its diehards, GBV has released Suitcase, a box set containing 100 songs somehow deemed unworthy of even being filler on previous albums. Isn't that called "insult to injury?"

And yet I remain a true believer, albeit one that does know when I'm being kicked in the privacy. With that in mind, I headed off to see my second Guided By Voices concert in less than a year, accompanied by Companion 688, who had never heard any damn thing Pollard & Co. had ever done. 688 likes good music in any genre, so this was a true acid test – would someone with no prior knowledge of GBV and their indie "mystique" be taken in? Or would GBV be revealed as a glorified bar band with a goofy, sloppy drunk of a lead singer?

The crowd at Metro was not all that friendly, full of those white kids who somehow feel the need to prove how much more into the band they are than everyone else. We kept getting bumped into and jostled by kids who undoubtedly each had an "Oh yeah, well I was listening to them back in 1923" attitude. Apparently they didn't get the memo titled "Attention: GBV not cool anymore." A lot of people were drunk, of course. This seems to be as major a part of Guided By Voices as the music and/or the "music."

Anyway, on to the music and the "music" – By some stroke of luck we managed to miss the opening bands and arrived about 20 minutes before the GBV set. The first thing Bob Pollard said (he introduces every song before he starts playing) was "This is a song from Suitcase!" I cringed. The song was called "The Ha-Ha Men," and it justified my cringe by sucking. In fact the first ten songs or so all kind of sucked – a lot of it was either new or totally obscure.

One song was actually pretty good, a new one called "Glad Girls" (set to be included on their forthcoming album Broadcaster House). Very catchy and radio-friendly, although Bob has been shown no love from radio stations (a fact he bitterly, and repeatedly, mentioned during the show). All told, it was off to a rocky start.

I felt pretty bad – I had brought a good friend to what was shaping up to be a terrible show. But then GBV, sensing crowd apathy to the largely mediocre song selection thus far, launched into "Cut-Out Witch," a great song from Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. The song started with a delicate little descending guitar riff before launching into a power chord volley around the riff. Bob's vocals were pretty sublime during the verse, and the song completely cut out before launching back into an electric guitar frenzy.

This back and forth continued until the end of the song, where the band positively walloped their instruments, with Bob and lead guitarist Doug Gillard screaming "Do you suppose … she could change … my life?". The crowd was unified in headbanging.

And just like that, the show turned around. Pollard got completely hammered, and the band reminded everyone why they were lo-fi legends in the first place : because the best of their songs are as good as any rock music made in the last thirty years. Some highlights, musical or otherwise:

Eventually 688 and I got tired – after two and a half hours or so, the band threatened to play for ANOTHER two hours, at which point we exchanged weary glances. We ended up staying for the first two encores, but at that point it was just self-defeating to stay any longer. 688 stated no pressing desire to rush out and buy any GBV CDs, but somehow the concert did not sully GBV for 688 entirely.

That's hardly glowing praise, but the band now has at least one more fan than they did the night before the concert. And isn't that the whole point of playing live?

Looking back on the show, it started out poorly, went on too long, and the crowd was unfriendly. The beer was overpriced and tasted terrible (of course, Pollard was drinking his own beer), but the show indisputably had some of those magical moments of intimacy between a great band and its loyal fans, so overall, it was well worth the $16 ticket.

One can only hope Pollard will initiate some quality control on his albums before more fans lose interest, because there's still the possibility that his great power pop (with Ric Ocasek's help, perhaps) could conquer the airwaves. That would just kill indie snootsters, and therefore please me greatly.

Review by POW