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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Guided By Voices hasn't lost its fastball

Thursday, November 4, 2010

(Photo)
BLOOMINGTON -- So what does it take for a group of dudes around 50 to still be one of the loudest, most energetic live acts you'd care to see?

If you've seen Guided By Voices on its "Classic Lineup Reunion Tour" this fall, the answer seems plain: alcohol and cigarettes.

The band came on stage at the Bluebird on Friday looking much older than the last time they were all together in 1996. What hasn't changed, though, is the cooler full of Miller Lite that accompanies them. There was also a bottle of tequila that was eventually passed into the audience and the countless cigarettes smoked by guitarist Mitch Mitchell and singer Robert Pollard.

Bloomington may have a smoking ban, but it didn't seem to apply to GBV or their fans on Friday.

"I quit smokin' cigarettes, man, but I had to kick back up for this tour," Pollard said. "Cause that's rock-n-roll. Smokin' cigarettes is rock-n-roll!"

The statement seemed to capture what the show and the tour have been all about. It's not 1995 anymore, but that's no reason for Pollard and Co. to act like it isn't. They know this is a short tour, and they may not reunite again, so they're making it worth everyone's time.

Watching Pollard work the stage became an exercise in score keeping for this ex-sports writer. My final tally for the night was as follows: 41 songs, three encores, 10 microphone twirls, nine karate kicks and a whole bunch of beers.

The singer's onstage antics make it a real shame these guys never really broke beyond the status of indie rock icons. He has the swagger and histrionics of Mick Jagger or Roger Daltry.

How Pollard, Mitchell and bassist Greg Demos maintain their momentum through an entire show is remarkable. Pollard and Demos had both soaked through their shirts by 20 minutes into the show.

Tobin Sprout, on the other hand, was calm most of the show, quietly playing his Telecaster and chipping in vocals for a handful of songs as Pollard sat to rest. Drummer Kevin Fennell remained anonymous behind his drum set for much of the night.

And of course, there are the songs. The era from 1992 to 1996 when this lineup was originally together was the band's best. As such, they stuck to the best songs of this time. Crowd favorites like "A Salty Salute," "Tractor Rape Chain," "Cut-Out Witch," "Hot Freaks" and "Don't Stop Now" all made the setlist.

The pinnacle of the show came at the close of the regular set with "Game of Pricks," "Echoes Myron" and "Smothered In Hugs." They could have ended it right there and walked off stage to a happy audience, but there were three encores to come. And that made us even happier.

For the fans who were there since the '90s and those of us who have come since, this tour was a must-see. The albums are good, but the concerts are much better. Seeing the band live is an "A-ha!" moment. These guys aren't a good band -- they're outstanding.