For nearly 40 years, Bob Pollard has been leading Guided by Voices from the early lo-fi days to the slick production of major label offerings and then to the current powerhouse of Kevin March on drums, Doug Gilliard and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitar, and Mark Shue on bass.
For the past several years, Guided by Voices has released, on average, two records of new material every year (though now it’s really closer to three albums per year), and they are putting out some of their strongest material perhaps in that entire period. How does this band, who has released six albums just since the start of the Covid pandemic (and seven with July’s Tremblers and Goggles by Rank), keep things fresh? The answer could be seen in Guided by Voices most recent visit to the 9:30 Club.
Certainly, the captain of this ship is Bob himself, but the chemistry amongst the other bandmates is incredible and each record is its own world — never repeating the same album. As Bob has said in interviews, if he feels “a lack of enthusiasm” for getting out there and creating or performing he knows it’s time to hang up the hat, but witnessing Guided by Voices live you never see a band phoning it in. It’s always 100%.
The first time I witnessed Guided by Voices was over 20 years ago at the 9:30 Club. And on June 18, I had the opportunity to see them again at the iconic venue. As they often do, they have had no tour opener (although I do remember that time at the 9:30 Club where the Strokes opened for them, but that feels like an entire lifetime ago). And that is largely due, I believe, to the massive list of songs they pull from each night — often going three hours or more — along with one, and sometimes more, encores.
If you’ve never been to a GbV show, probably the first inkling you are in a different kind of crowd is that there is a shared or communal aspect that’s hard to define. If you are a fan, you are all-in, and if you aren’t then, well, as I heard recently, you haven’t listened long enough. And everyone has a Bob story — the mark of a living legend — whose high-kicking, hard-drinking, and hilarious stage banter continues to fill pages.
Kicking off their set at the club, Bob and company started off with a brand new (as of this printing) song, “Unproductive Funk” from the forthcoming Tremblers and Goggles by Rank — a fuzzed out rocker that climbs up and onward with the refrain, “this is no love, this is no love.”
Watch the official music video for “Dance of the Gurus” from the 2021 album It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! by Guided by Voices on YouTube:
Guided by Voices is at its best live with songs like “Cut-Out Witch” that gets a rolling, anthemic groove going as Mark jumps high into the air with his bass, trading acrobatics with Bob who is in grand form as he makes one high kick after another. It’s a sight to see, as Kevin stands atop his drum kit, arms raised, right before things blast off with Bobby thrashing back and forth and Doug pounding out those staccato chords before joining in on harmony at the end makes for probably the best example of a band having fun and bringing the audience along with them. While taking a breather in between songs, Bob joked that they don’t do short songs anymore (something that the band had, for a while there, become famous), “except maybe this one time,” before going into “Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud.”
Praising the band, Bob took a moment to offer a cheeky apology as some of the songs he ends of sending off to the band to work through are “Captain Beefheart-ian” in their complexity, but they pull off those songs in style.
I was thrilled to see some of my favorites from the new LP, Crystal Nuns Cathedral, like “Climbing a Ramp,” one of the tracks that kicks me in the heart when I listen to it. Like the way that that melody in “Best of Jill Hives” has me coming back to listen again and again. Pollard can write a melody that’s hard to shake even when it’s cloaked and soaked in distortion.
There were tons of fan favorites — “I Am A Tree,” “Rally Boys,” “I Am A Scientist,” “Game of Pricks” — but it was the encore that had everyone in a sweaty heap. With “Shocker in Gloomtown,” “Teenage FBI,” and topping off this 50+ song setlist with “Glad Girls.”
Guided by Voices continue their tour across the USA, including more of the East Coast. Definitely check out more on their site.
Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)
Dance of Gurus
Back to the Lake
who wants to go hunting
Matter Eater Lad
Tractor Rape Chain
A Salty Salute
The Best of Jill Hives
Never Mind the List
Yours to Keep
Focus on the Flock
Climbing a Ramp
I Am a Tree
Man Called Blunder
The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory
Crash at Lake Placebo
My Kind of Soldier
The Batman Sees the Ball
The Rally Boys
I Am a Scientist
Moses on a Snail
Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft
The Very Second
Jane of the Waking Universe
Amusement Park Is Over
Your Name Is Wild
Time Without Looking
My (Limited) Engagement
Game of Pricks
To Keep an Area
Chasing Heather Crazy
Shocker in Gloomtown
Smothered in Hugs
Here are some more photos of Guided by Voices performing at the 9:30 Club June 18, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.