Friday, September 18, 2009

Guided By Voices - Berbati's Pan - November 15th, 2004

I saw the Who last night in a small club. Not actually, but that's the closest way to describe seeing Guided By Voices at Berbati's. They don't have a guitarist as good as Townsend, or a drummer like Keith Moon, but Bob Pollard has written more perfect pop gems than anybody, and all 600 people were singing the words to every song as if they were tunes that had been on classic rock radio for the last 30 years. They did not let up for over 3 hours of glorious guitar rock heaven. Bob must have drank a case of beer during the show which only heightened his trademark high kicks and microphone swinging. The spectacle of it: As much fun as the crowd is having, no one is having more fun than Bob.Guided By Voices is really just Bob Pollard. He writes the music and lyrics to every song and the band lineup has changed so many times that one journalist counted more than 100 guys that have been in the band at one time or another. In 1983 Pollard was an elementary school teacher in Dayton, Ohio and instead of grading papers at night, he wrote songs. Thousands of them. He started a band and released many unsuccessful albums but the band's live shows became legendary. Then in 1994 he released "Bee Thousand" which Rolling Stone magazine called "a tour de force by a good old-fashioned American basement genius". The group was suddenly thrust into the mainstream, appearing on MTV and acquiring the kind of glowing accolades from corporate magazines generally reserved for bands like R.E.M. and U2. Pollard quit his teaching job, and the group performed on the Lollapalooza tour. Since then he has stuck with the formula which he describes like this "I write 100 or so songs for each album. 20 of them get stuck in my head and become an album. Next thing I know, it's unbelievable, our fans are singing them with me every night".No point in trying to remember what songs they played last night since they played about a hundred. And since most of their songs are only 2 minutes long, that's not an exaggeration. It was a special evening because their bass player, Chris Slusarenko, is from Portland. Many years ago Chris started a GBV cover band here called Giant Bug Village which eventually landed him the real GBV gig. He was ecstatic to be playing all those songs for old friends and family with his hero Bob at the helm. It was also special because this is the last tour for GBV. Nearing 50 years old, Bob was the only person with grey hair in the club.Alluding to the band's eternal underground status, Bob said "Portland has always been good to us. We used to play here for just a few people. Now we play all around the dozens of people." Guided By Voices may not tour anymore but you have to love a man that has dedicated his life to rock and roll even though he never got the big payoff. But why does he still do it? In the closing song "I Am A Scientist" his lyrics said it best:
I am a lost soul
I shoot myself with rock & roll
the hole I dig is bottomless
but nothing else can set me free

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