It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that, for someone like Robert Pollard, reforming an incarnation of a band that existed for a couple years and a couple albums in the ’90s inside a career that currently sees a steady annual output of 5-6 albums, may not be the height of inspiration. He is acutely aware and respectful of his past, yet never so much so that he would be satisfied by it. Closing out the Matador at 21 anniversary fiesta at the Palms in Las Vegas with bandmates he hasn’t shared a stage with since 1996 may not be Uncle Bob’s idea of productive time, but for a crowd numbed from some 52 hours of thinking about how fat they’ve gotten, this was the fireworks at the end of a perfect party.
Guided By Voices has been a brand for much longer than it’s been a band. It is a name pegged to his ever-revolving supporting cast, until he chose to stop using that name in 2001. But, when Bob Pollard, a schoolteacher in Dayton, Ohio, began attracting unlikely national attention for his basement-born quasi-anthems, guitarist Mitch Mitchell, drummer Kevin Fennell, bassist and striped-pants enthusiast Greg Demos, and singer-guitarist Tobin Sprout were part of the story, too. Now they are again, even if it’s not the height of innovation.
From the classic DUI call to arms “A Salty Salute” to the second-encore-closing “Some Drilling Implied,” Sunday night’s set was a trip through a very specific and isolated history marked by three full-length albums (Propeller, Bee Thousand, and Under the Bushes Under the Stars) and more EPs between than Pollard himself could accurately cite. If you have a semi-obscure GBV favorite, it done got played (“My Impression Now,” “Johnny Appleseed,” Quality of Armor,” to name but a few titles that won’t mean much to most of the population) and while the leg kicks may have had less air than in the past, they were more athletic than anything anyone else on the bill attempted.
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If Pollard himself wasn’t outwardly cuddly towards his new/old bandmates, Mitchell and Demos in particular made the most of their return to the relative limelight, mugging rockishly and aping Townsend-style windmill moves. Chavez’ Matt Sweeney, himself a longtime Pollard collaborator, crowd-surfed to the stage, an elaborate but effective means of showing approval.
To Bob Pollard, Guided By Voices is whomever he has behind him on any given day. To his biggest fans, it’s these guys. Sometimes giving the people what they want is a great and noble thing.