There was actually a little bit of room to breathe at last night’s Guided by Voices show at the Crescent Ballroom. By no means was it a light crowd, just one that allowed for a little wiggle room, along with some personal space between audience members, who were treated to a nearly three-hour set by frontman Robert Pollard and his current lineup of co-conspirators, including Bobby Bare Jr. and Doug Gillard on guitar duties, Kevin March on drums, and Mark Shue on bass.
“In Bob We Trust” has long been a fan slogan. It highlights not only the appreciation of this long-running Ohio-born rock 'n' roll group but also a testament to the fan base's ability to roll with the changing roster of musicians. Together, this current assemblage of players is pretty ferocious. Sure, it’s hard not to miss what’s known as the classic GBV lineup, with members like the chain-smoking Mitch Mitchell, whose riffs were served with a cocky swagger, but times change and most GBV fans don’t dwell.
Like the line from one of their hits from 1994, “Smothered in Hugs,” it was “business as usual” for a GBV show: a dude-centric crowd comprised most of the audience of rabid fans ready to hang on every word as soon as Pollard cracked the tab on his first onstage cold one. Over the years, fans have also joked that Pollard’s song-to-beer ratio is 1:1. Totally plausible.
With the popping of that tin top, the tunes flowed from old favorites like the exceptional “Cut Out Witch,” to “Kid on a Ladder” – the latter from their latest release, Please Be Honest. For this new recording, Pollard did all the work himself, writing and playing all parts. It hearkens back to some of the early '90s releases, a la Alien Lanes, and being delivered through this live lineup, becomes a little more brazen. They managed to insert a good number of tunes from this one throughout the set, including the title track, “Hotel X (Big Soap),” and “Come On, Mr. Christian."
This rock 'n' roll party was a mish-mash of Guided by Voices songs, blended with a big dose of songs from Pollard’s Boston Spaceships project, a band that exemplifies Pollard’s penchant for riff-y, full-bodied, edgy pop. “Question Girl All Right,” and “Tabby and Lucy” were a couple on last night’s list. As they worked their way through Pollard’s monstrous catalog, they also threw in some songs from another of his side projects, Ricked Wicky, which also includes current GBVers Shue and March. Brimming with GBV sensibilities, Wicky is also hard and thick with enough hooks to easily embrace. Some of the RW songs at last night’s event included “Piss Face” and “Mobility.”
Sure, there may be fewer leg kicks and less onstage chaos than at past tours, but it doesn’t matter. What does is the fact that this particular group is a team of stellar performers who look seriously happy to be there. The chemistry showed in the output all night long. Gillard and Bare, Jr., at either ends of the stage offered two engaging styles of guitar playing – the former’s melodic and lyrical ways hypnotized, while the latter’s noisy crunch offered sonic punches. Kevin March was a powerhouse of beats and fills, and Shue on bass was tack-sharp. He and Bare Jr.’s camaraderie was fun and infectious.
After closing up the set, the fellas returned for three encores that included favorites like “Teenage FBI” and the aforementioned “Smothered in Hugs.” The one and only cover was a fun and righteous version of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
Last Night: Guided by Voices at Crescent Ballroom
The Crowd: Serious GBV fans (myself included) who probably would have stuck around for at least another 10 to 15 songs.
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Random Notebook Dump: Bobby Bare Jr. unravels kind of subtly, but then once his freak flag is out, it really starts flying.
Overheard in the Crowd: Fans singing every single word of every single song.