Guided By Voices
Words: Sean Moore/ Photos: Madeline Rheaume
Saturday night, Guided By Voices finally made a tour stop in Portland, after 35+ years in the music industry. It’s hard to believe that the godfathers of the indie rock scene, stretching all the way back to the 1980s, have never played in such a music-loving city. But, they made the wait well worth it. Delivering an exhilarating and energetic performance that included 57 songs, covering 17 of the albums in the band’s extensive catalogue.
As bandleader and self-proclaimed songwriter, Robert Pollard, told the crowd, “It may have taken us over 30 years to get here, but we will give you two and a half to three hours of a great show.” He was not lying. With no opener, the band blasted out song after song after song. Many of the people in the audience have clearly been faithful followers of the band and knew every single word to every single one of the 57 songs.
With the anticipation reaching maximum level a little after 8 o’clock, the band took the stage at Port City Music Hall to a crowd chanted “GBV, GBV, GBV…” Pollard and his band ripped into a crowd pleaser, “Glad Girls,” right out of the gate, and then “My Future in Barcelona” and “Dead Liquor Store.” The crowd was bouncing up and down, shaking the floor, with each song’s introduction. Having already put out two albums (Warp and Woof, Zeppelin Over China) this year, the setlist weighed heavy on material from those two albums, which makes sense since this iteration of the band has been playing together since 2016 and has recorded 5 albums, including the newest ones which sound excellent. It’s also easy to think an audience doesn’t have the stamina to make it through such an extensive set, but the crowd never lost their collective energy.
Delivering on Pollard’s promise to play some “really good songs,” stretching all the way back to many of their albums from the ‘90s. They seemed to play at least 1 song from nearly every album throughout the night.
Pollard spoke to the audience throughout the night, offering juicy tidbits into what it means to be a songwriter of “about 3,000 songs, no joke,” when he mused that someone had asked him prior to the show if he would play a certain song and he told the crowd his answer was, “I don’t know that one anymore,” adding, “because I’ve written over 3,000 songs!” The crowd erupted in cheers of appreciation for Pollard’s contribution to the indie music scene for so long. The longevity of the 61 year old songwriter/bandleader’s career is absolutely something to admire, even if the band has gone through several lineup changes over the years.
This version of the band including Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr. on guitars, Mark Shue on bass, and Kevin March on drums sounded incredible and clearly had the chemistry to bring these songs to life for the Portland crowd that packed the venue. Aside from focusing on their two latest albums, Guided By Voices sprinkled some fan favorites and oldies from their earliest albums, like “My Kind of Soldier” and “The Best of Jill Hives” from Earthquake Glue and my favorite album in their catalogue, Do the Collapse, song “Teenage FBI” ,which came during the incredibly packed encore, perhaps because it’s one of their most popular songs. A few more of my favorites from the night included “Cut-Out Witch,” “I Am a Tree” and especially “King 007.” The songs from Bee Thousand and Mag Earwhig! Got a raucous reaction from the crowd, especially “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory.”
Considering how expansive the setlist was, Robert Pollard certainly took his time and made a point after almost every other song to talk to the crowd or to interact with many of the folks in the front row, as well as continually chug beer after beer. I could not believe that the frontman is actually 61 years old, based on his rock ‘n’ roll stage behavior. Perhaps he knew that everyone who was in attendance had waited over three decades to see one of the best indie rock bands live and Pollard wanted to make it a memorable night for everyone. At one point, he joked about being homesick and “missing my two kitties,” as well as pointing out that “my wife packed me a jacket,” but since this was his first time in Maine, he was not aware of the unpredictable weather patterns of our home state, even in late September.
Pollard made a point of telling, in a half-modest/half-joking manner, the tightly packed in crowd that all the “really great songs were coming towards the end,” as a way of keeping everyone literally on their toes or the balls of their feet in anticipation. And, boy oh boy, Pollard was not lying. The encore included some of the best songs in the GBV catalogue. “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” “Coming Back From Now,” “Peep-Hole,” and “The Official Ironmen Rally Song” were amongst the 10-song encore that had people dancing and bouncing, even after nearly two and a half hours of music.
This was a show for a true rock fan and masters of the stamina necessary to endure the lengthy setlist. A Guided By Voices show has been known for years to be an exercise in energy and stamina, perhaps from word-of-mouth by fans. Luckily, Portland finally got to witness what everyone had been talking about for all these years.