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Rock review, Guided by Voices at Metro
By Bill Meyer
SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE
Sunday, August 8, 1999
The story of Guided by Voices is a veritable rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale. In 1986, vocalist Robert Pollard and his band turned their backs on an indifferent Dayton, Ohio, music scene and set about making records in their garages. Not even bothering to play live in a town where they couldn’t give their records away, they threw release parties in Pollard’s house and let the LPs gather dust in the basement.
In 1992 the tiny independent label Scat started circulating Guided By Voices amongst the rock underground. The band rode an updraft of rabidly enthusiastic fanzine press out of the basement and onto major stages.
When the group first played Chicago in 1994 they were visibly thrilled just to have the chance to be onstage, but their commanding performances served notice that they had the talent to back up the hype. The extremely prolific Pollard has gone on to write dozens of songs that wrap fever-dream lyrics in catchy power-pop melodies held together by spit-and-tape hiss. The latter are inevitable artifacts of GBV’s homemade recording methods; they often record songs minutes after writing them, sometimes using toy keyboards and cookie sheets for drums.
Pollard and his ever-changing crew (he changes musicians as often as some people change socks) abandoned such rough-and-ready methods and employed producer Ric Ocasek of the Cars to give their recent TVT Records debut “Do the Collapse” the pomp and polish necessary to get on the radio.
The results are mixed; the single “Teenage FBI” benefits from the pumped-up production, but quirkier material like “In Stitches” is as cramped in Ocasek’s glossy settings as a weight-lifter in an ill-fitting rented tux.
The new songs fared better when Guided By Voices played them at the Metro on Friday night. New drummer Jim MacPherson and returning lead guitarist Doug Gillard added fluid facility to GBV’s trademark anthemic intensity.
Rhythm guitarist Nathan Farley and bassist Tim Tobias are competent players, but contributed more with their unfeigned enthusiasm and shameless mugging for the crowd.
Pollard has developed into a seasoned performer with a vigorous repertoire of microphone twirls and high kicks that belie both his age (41) and his prodigious onstage consumption of beer and cigarettes. He quickly established a rapport with the devoted audience, which needed little encouragement to sing along with Pollard on mid-’90s favorites such as “I Am a Scientist” and the new single.
The Lynnfield Pioneers, a quartet from New York City, opened with a set of appealingly brittle rhythms undercut by singsong, adenoidal raps.