I first became aware of Guided By Voices in perhaps in the early 90s via a Rolling Stone review of their record Bee Thousand. The article mentioned how frontman and founder Robert Pollard was a family man and teacher and also in my age demographic. As a musician with a full time job and dreams of rock glory this was just the story I needed to hear.
The legends of these lo-fi indie pioneers recording anthemic pop on a basement 4-track piqued my interest to the max. I probably first heard them during an interview with David Dye on his World Cafe Live radio show. They performed a live version of “I Am Produced” from Mag Earwhig. I was hooked. I went out the next day and purchased Under The Bushes Under The Stars, which was the only GBV my local store had at the time.The song suite that includes “Rhine Jive Click,” “Cut Out Witch”and “No Sky,” remains for me one of the finest collections of rock songs in history. It is as evocative for me as Delta Blues and Chuck Berry were for early English rockers, creating a vision of a southern Ohio where bands raised on arena shows gave birth to their own sounds in basements on rudimentary gear. The fact that a lot of early Guided By Voices was hard to find only added to the mythology. I got what I could. Solo albums by Pollard and Sprout,a vinyl EP,a sloppy and wonderful live disc were added to my collection.
I was lucky enough to see the “post Mag” version of GBV twice but to actually see the original line-up of Robert Pollard,Tobin Sprout,Greg Demos,Mitch Mitchell,and Kevin Fennel in front of about 6000 “GBV” chanting faithful on a perfect summer evening was a dream come true. The boys did not disappoint. Pollard ,white haired but trim. “I lost 30 pounds but put 10 back on,” he told the crowd, led his cohorts through a set that included just about every song you would want to hear from Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, Mag and Under The Bushes. Highlights for me included “I Am A Scientist,” “Jane Of The Waking Universe,” “Matter Eater Lad” and ” Motor Away”.
On their second encore Pollard joked: “Don’t worry, we have more songs!” An understatemant for sure. After almost two hours, as the sun began to set on Brooklyn’s McCarren Park, the boys left the stage for good. The faithful, with fists pumping the air, continued to chant “GBV, GBV, GBV, GBV…” One can only hope that the young purveyors of Indie in attendance took notice. It was a monumental rock show for sure. The “Old Men” showed how it’s supposed to be done. It was an evening I will not soon forget.