“HEY! We’re just getting started,” said Robert Pollard, lead singer of the iconic debauch-rock 90’s alt-band Guided By Voices a few songs into their NYE show at Music Hall of Williamsburg. As he pointed to an overflowing Riddler-meets-A Beautiful Mind of a setlist he had just picked up off the stage floor, he issued a warning to the overanxious and the newbies, “So just pace yourselves!” That may very well have been the motto for the night, as for anyone who’s ever seen a GBV show, let alone a NYE set, you would already know that their shows often last for hours and always encompass a massive amount of songs. That makes sense, as their songs often are only a couple minutes long, and this night went on for 54 wondrous tracks (adding up to just over three hours of complete GBV bliss). I personally have seen this band, and Robert in particular, get so messed up on stage that they could all barely stand up straight, but I still have never witnessed them cut a show massively short or crawl off stage entirely.
The Moles opened the show, and it was the psych-pop-punk nomad himself, Richard Davies, back again to rock us sweetly. Even though the Moles were the band that brought him to stateside rock notice in the early 90’s, I know of Richard mainly for the massive amount of records he has made over the last 20 years since their breakup. Of course, this Australian ex-patriot would be opening this show, as one of those projects happened to be a band he had with Pollard a few years back called Cosmos. Davies even briefly reunited his other early 90’s alt-pop pleasure band The Cardinals several years back. However, he hadn’t released any new music under the name of The Moles since 1994. That changed earlier this year when he released a delightful new disc called Tonight’s Music. There are actually three different incarnations of the band that play with Davies when he is playing around the region: one in Detroit, one in London, and the one he played with this night was, of course, the NYC Moles; being guitarist Matt Lemay, Peter Hilton, Danny Bowman, Henry Freedland, and drummer Jason Sigal (and one of the Detroit Moles guitarist Alex Glendening sat in on a couple songs). It was a great set that really kept pumping the whole way through, and I can’t wait to experience Davies and his crew do it again real soon. As Richard himself said during his set, “Winston Churchill was known to say M.B.O., which meant ‘Must Bugger On,’ and that’s just what we’re gonna do.”
“Sadly, punk rock never plays the love songs,” was yet another lovable quote by our lovably boozy Uncle Pollard during his extensive Guided By Voices set. However, as much as his wild-man drunk-rocker persona has thrived in his some 35 years of fronting this wildly debaucherous garage rock extravaganza, he really continues to be one of the most extremely driven and prolific frontmen and songwriters in the industry. To date, he has written or co-written more than 1,600 songs, with over 500 of them released under the Guided By Voices name, and he has consistently released at least one (if not two) solo albums every year for a total of 21 complete solo discs on top of his various group projects that, of course, also includes GBV. So, Robert Pollard is far from being a washed up drunk rock n’ roll relic, and instead is more of an unstoppable and eternal rock n’ roll machine than pretty much anyone else in the biz.
My friend said seeing Guided By Voices brings back AA meeting flashbacks, and to some extent I have to agree. It certainly has all the steps of admission, surrender, acceptance, and so on to restart one’s day count. I always get covered in beer and/or liquor, almost end up in some fist fight (or at least seeing one), and inevitably spot that one poor dude trying to stay sober amid the chaos. However, it should be said, that this was a whole different kind of Guided By Voices show than we’ve seen in quite some (or even ever possibly).
Apart from Pollard’s continuous involvement, GBV is known as a band that has had many different lineups, and this time was no different. Although a couple of the faces shouldn’t be a complete surprise to most fans, this was indeed a new band burning like a Phoenix from the flames. Don’t get me wrong, it was really great seeing many of the founding members like drummer Kevin Fennell, and especially guitarist Mitch Mitchell, return for the last several years’ lineups, that was obviously not going to last forever, as they may very well have imploded upon themselves forming a black hole and sucking us all in. Those dudes’ true raging punk rock spirit may very well have been inadvertently hastening the strong right turn into the guardrail of onstage debauchery the last couple times I’ve seen them.
Now, the band has found it’s more responsible and productive middle ground as a half-veteran, half-new unit. There’s the return of master drummer Kevin March of the early ‘00’s GBV material, but who is also known for his work in Shudder to Think, The Dambuilders, as well as a number of Robert Pollard’s solo efforts. He definitely laid down a confident beat like no other that helped keep the show plowing ahead. However, one of the biggest changes of this lineup is the return of Doug Gillard as lead guitarist. Gillard is known for 80’s groups like Death of Samantha, 90’s efforts like his work with GBV up through the mid ‘00s, and even a long-running roll in those always-awesome indie-darlings over at Nada Surf, not to mention some really awe-striking solo albums in his own right. Gillard is such a brilliantly together, dexterously supple, and angelically coherent guitarist, I can’t help but think it was he who primarily kept Pollard on the straight and narrow through the night. I even heard him remark during the night that drunk guys down in the front of the stage should stop buying Bob shots because, “He can buy his own drinks!” Thusly, I personally saw Pollard down only a few beers, a couple shots that were given to him (ignoring quite a few others), guzzle roughly half a bottle of tequila his roadie handed him (the rest he ended up giving to the hammered fans up front), and a few gulps of champagne round midnight. New to the GBV lineup this year was guitarist Bobby Bare, Jr. (who just did a duo 7” with Pollard called Bloodshot) and Brooklyn bassist Mark Shue, both of whom did a bang up job of killing those tasty power licks.
I must say, I really enjoyed this more responsible GBV more than I’ve adored any other lineup. They produced one of the finest albums of the year with the release of their 22nd album Please Be Honest, and on stage, they have the presence of mind and focus to get through more songs. Still, there were plenty of awesome Uncle Bob rants, like how his old label Matador Records is now only interested in acts like Kurt Vile, and how he to this day has never saw a cent from his time with Merge Records. He also went off about how he “really wanted a fucking smoke,” but that “every cigarette is like pyrrhic victory,” another sign that he has cleaned up his act. Then again, he also had plenty of seriously awesome ‘rock on forever’ quotes like “We’re gonna play bass riffs on your fucking grave!”
During their set they played songs off of every GBV album I was familiar with at the very least, and even some from which I was not so acquainted. They also played some Pollard solo tracks scattered throughout, including some Boston Spaceships group from a few years back, as well as his recent spin as Ricked Wicky. There was, of course, plenty of their ‘hits’ like “Game of Pricks,” “Motor Away,” “Echos Myron,” “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” “Cut-Out Witch,” “Don’t Stop Now,” and so many more that are far too numerous to mention. The only straight-ahead cover of the night came on their third encore of the night (or actually the early morning), and was the Who’s truly epic “Baba O’Riley,” and you’d be crazy if you didn’t see a lot of Roger Daltrey’s mic spinning, foot kicking stage presence in Robert’s, as he said before “Can you fucking tell me a song better than Baba O’Reilly?!?”
Article: Dean Keim