Bob Pollard, by CityBeat's estimation, is now on tour in support of three LPs. One of these is currently available. Expect this from someone who only half-jokes about writing five hundred songs a year.
Available is Guided By Voices' Isolation Drills, a 16-track Rock & Roll travelogue mostly journaled from the band's last tour for Do The Collapse. Drills recently spent several weeks atop the CMJ chart, and is the quintet's second release for TVT Records. The summer months will bring the releases of the other two projects.
First is Robert Pollard and His Soft Rock Renegades' Choreographed Man of War, brought to us by Rockathon Records. Bassist Greg Demos and drummer Jim MacPherson, both recent ex-Voices, back vocalist Pollard (also guitarist here) once again. Choreographed is fourteenth in the Fading Captain Series, Pollard's means of giving us his belittlingly prolific output, for those keeping track.
Second is Airport 5's Tower in the Fountain of Sparks, also a Rockathon product.
Greatly anticipated among long-time fans, Airport 5 is the reunion of Pollard and former bandmate Tobin Sprout, the George Harrison to Pollard's John Lennon/Paul McCartney. Sprout, now a Leland, Mich., resident, sent his completed instrumental tracks in search of lyrics to Pollard, still a Dayton, Ohio, resident. Tower isn't it for this new old pair: An excitable Pollard informed CityBeat in a recent telephone interview that he and Sprout just put finishing touches on the second Airport 5 album.
One band promoting three neo-simultaneous releases seems unreal. But Guided By Voices are for real, delivering a triumphant 44 songs from 17 releases last Wednesday at a noisily exuberant Southgate House. Pollard and his line-up (bassist Tim Tobias, guitarists Nate Farley and Doug Gillard, and drummer Jon McCann) brought his artistically damaged update of American mid-'60s Psychedelic/ Punk Rock for a second Newport, Ky., show in as many years. (Pollard also told CityBeat that this and Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club are two of his favorite venues.)
Imposing a Rock & Roll martial law in the historic ballroom, "I Drove a Tank" from Choreographed may be the band's most relentless opening song ever. Guided By Voices didn't stop then, following with a rumbling "Settlement Down" from the four-disc set, Suitcase, and an insouciant "Skills Like This" from Drills. Pollard was a masterful frontman, all microphone, Miller Lite bottles, kung fu kicks and attitude, with the moves of an effete Roger Daltrey and the voice of Greg Lake/John Wetton.
His teammates are as good a roster as any assembled over the years. Tobias played a fluid, strong bass, while prancing about like an Arena Rock Keith Richards. Pollard's songs are nothing without rhythm guitar, and Farley played a great one this night. Gillard, who made his debut on the 1995 Matador Records EP, Tigerbomb, has the most gifts of any lead player in Guided By Voices, and is a formidable creative foil for Pollard. And new guy McCann, recently conscripted to fill the slot left by MacPherson's departure, drummed confidently, deftly and musically.
Unheard stuff notwithstanding, Guided By Voices' set list drew heavily from Drills and Collapse, 11 and five from each respectively. Recent college radio hits "Glad Girls," "Chasing Heather Crazy" and "Teenage FBI" brought the ballroom floor to eruption, each of them three-minute tremors of bass, guitar, drum and melody. But know that it's only at a Guided By Voices show that these songs are now older material. Worry not the obscurities rocked. Airport 5's immediately memorable "Stifled Man Casino" and "Total Exposure," each available only as sold-out 7-inch singles, proved Pollard and Sprout are still a winning team after all these years, and the in-concert Guided By Voices versions made them livelier. Robert Pollard And His Soft Rock Renegades' sharp "Edison's Memos" and the moody "Instrument Beetle," along with opener "Tank," also won. The packed House was also treated to the Rock pfennig, "I'm Dirty," from last year's Speed Traps for the Bee Kingdom, ninth in Pollard's Fading Captain Series, by the Howling Wolf Orchestra. The unexpected killer was "Titus and Strident Wet Nurse," from this year's compilation concept LP, Colonel Jeffrey Pumpernickel on Off Records.
But getting no less popular over time are the older Robert Pollard/Guided By Voices tunes. Fans of various LPs and EPs won their favorite Rock lottery prizes from the band's live tombola: Suitcase ("Settlement Down," "Sing It Out"), Speak Kindly Of Your Volunteer Fire Department ("Tight Globes," Soul Train College Policeman," "Pop Zeus"), Ask Them ("Alone, Stinking and Unafraid"), Alien Lanes ("Game Of Pricks," "Watch Me Jumpstart"), Bee Thousand ("Tractor Rape Chain," "I Am A Scientist," "Hot Freaks"), Waved Out (the title track), The Grand Hour ("Shocker In Gloomtown"), Kid Marine ("Submarine Teams"), Not In My Air Force ("Get Under It," "Psychic Pilot Clocks Out"), Under The Bushes Under The Stars ("Don't Stop Now," "Cut-Out Witch"), Propeller ("Lethargy"). If you were a fan, your ticket was there. (Writer's note: If some knowledgeable Guided By Voices fan could let me know in care of CityBeat what album has the fantastic "Back To Saturn X," I would appreciate it.)
Toss in an early appearance from the Eat-My-Ass-Guy (?) and a later one from an exotic dancer during "Freaks" (!), and this Guided By Voices gig was complete. Pollard used the encore to show us a favorite from his music collection: a powerful, glorious "Baba O'Riley" from Who's Next, where his voice never sounded better. (And damn that Gillard is good.) If only The Who's middle-age rocked as hard and as well as Pollard's is now. Nothing emphasized this more than the encorebeginning "Saturn X," featuring the anthemic, memorable refrain, "You're never too old forever."
Also making the trip down I-75 from our neighbor Dayton was The Igniters, who continued the tradition of fine GBV opening acts. (Remember last year's Fairmount Girls?) Think of local Nugget-y greats, The Customs, reinvented as a Garage Glam quintet, and you've got it. Spindly frontman Jason Keith Himes marched about the ballroom stage, shouting the choruses to rave-ups like "Welcome (Hollywood Shadows)" and "Year of the Cock" with enough explosiveness to make everyone forget the Black Crowes/Oasis/ Spacehog show at Riverbend Music Center was flooded-out. Lead guitarist Scott Bodine, a veteran of many bands in his home town, all of them great, lent some fun Ted Nugent/Amboy Dukes-style fretwork to the band's Indie Rock. Rock & Roll fans could do much worse than visiting theigniters.net. ©