“And we’re finally here, and shit yeah it’s cool!” The third time’s the charm, right? Robert Pollard would sing that line in “Echoes Myron,” the three hundred and forty eighth song played tonight and it was right on the mark. After two canceled/postponed dates, the most prolific band from Dayton Ohio (scratch that, the known universe) has finally landed back in Boston. And guess what, they have a new record out! Taking a break from their usual performances at The Paradise, Royale was a nice change of pace and offered better sight lines and good sound, as long as you weren’t standing directly in front of guitarist Doug Gillard, whose amp was a buzz saw blast of treble that cut through everything else; ear plugs were mandatory in that zone.
As any fan of the band knows, keeping current with their output is a Sisyphean task at best, and a Quixotic one at worst. The global backlog of vinyl production has affected their LP onslaught a bit, with four records released in 2020 (including Surrender Your Poppy Field, my pick of the litter) and just (just!) three since then but rest assured there’s more work in the can, ready for the hot stampers.
Despite Pollard’s admission of having a recurring dream where Guided By Voices plays Boston and no one shows up, the city has always been full of die-hards ready for a full rock show experience, being baptized in the salt and liquor of the well-crafted rock songs that Pollard effortlessly churns out. That said, for a Saturday night crowd it seemed to take until “Tractor Rape Chain” for the band and audience to finally click and unite in a fists in the air communion. Early standouts included opener “The Very Second,” the Who-like “Re-Develop” from Crystal Nuns Cathedral and the two call-to-arms rousers of “Cut-Out Witch” and “A Salty Salute” and yes- the club was open, but for whatever reason the momentum seemed to sputter a bit.
The hits just spilled out after that, and along with long-time slinger Doug Gillard, the band that Pollard’s put together is likely the tightest version ever; Kevin March (ex-Dambuilders) plays hard and fast, never missing a fill while lending backing vocals, and Mark Shue looks like some hybrid of Phil Lynott and Eddie Van Halen as he shakes his shaggy mane and fully anchors the songs with bedrock bass work. This might sound harsh but the band could totally operate as a four piece as it’s hard to figure out what Bobby Bare Jr brings to the sound (although to be fair to him, I was over in Camp Gillard for most of the night).
It’s a GBV show so you know you’re gonna get “Scientist,” “Game Of Pricks,” “Best Of Jill Hives,” “I Am A Tree (the only non-Pollard GBV song in the post-classic lineup canon, as Doug wrote that one) etc and while those are all high points of any show, it’s the unexpected gems that Pollard tucks into his gigantic handwritten set lists that can make a show go from great to special. Two from Pollard solo records really shined brightly, “Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft” with its ringing opening guitar lines and the heavy psych stomper of “Moses On A Snail,” where Gillard really showed some prowess on his Les Paul.
The other highlights for me included a touching “Yours To Keep,” a very underrated lo-fi ballad from Bee Thousand from an era when each GBV record was like a secret talisman slipped into the greater, uncaring world and waiting for the right people to make the discovery. The regular set closer of “Non-Absorbing” was another gem, again on the surface a very simple song that builds on a repeated lyric (“Do you see me/like I see you?”) until it blossoms until something entirely unexpected and beautiful. That’s the GBV way, kids.