Dayton Ohio’s Guided by Voices have come to epitomize the sound of ’90s indie rock, a remarkable feat considering their near-dissolution after years of failed successes. Fueled by the prolific songwriting prowess of leader Robert Pollard, GBV finally broke through in 1992 with the release of Propeller, the first of many albums to feature the band’s distinct lo-fi production values. Good fortune and a newfound interest in the underground worked in the band’s favor, and for the better part of the next decade, Guided By Voices released an astonishing 11 albums, as well as countless singles and EPs. After more than 20 years together as well as label and personnel changes, the band called it quits in 2004.
Reforming the “classic lineup” in 2010, Guided By Voices released six albums from 2010-2014 before promptly disbanding once again. This year, the band is back in action with a partially new lineup and a brand new record, Please Be Honest, released in April. Pollard has been the group’s only constant member since its formation, so seeing the nearly 60-year-old frontman with a new combination of sidemen is hardly a new concept. While bouts of pre-show skepticism were natural, they were quickly silenced Thursday when Guided By Voices took Turner Hall’s stage for two and a half hours and proceeded to treat the audience to a high-energy, career-spanning set of roughly 50 songs.
While a good chunk of their recorded output was done by the band at home (their 1995 classic Alien Lanes was reportedly recorded for “about 10 dollars”), GBV’s approach to live performance has always been a more traditional affair, trading in the happy accidents and unexpected edits for amplifier stacks and an arena-equipped stage presence. Pollard’s reputation as a world class bandleader is a well-earned one, and his signature high kicks and microphone swings were in full effect, all while staying perfectly in key. The band attacked the material with spirited precision, giving the songs a slightly heavier edge in a live setting. Favorites like “Game Of Pricks” and “Echos Myron” were given the full-on big rock show treatment, while more polished tunes like “Glad Girls” and “Teenage FBI” sounded as good, if not better than, their recorded representations. Pollard rattled off song titles with a Ramones-like urgency, and just like that, off they went.
In addition to fan favorites, the performance featured a good amount of selections from GBV’s most recent releases, as well as a handful of tunes from Pollard’s numerous side projects. The fact that they all shared the same creator certainly helped the set maintain a focus, but Pollard’s supporting cast should also not be sold short. Guitarists Bobby Bare, Jr. and Doug Gillard, bassist Mark Shue, and drummer Kevin March did a fantastic job of reproducing both new and old numbers.
As the show neared its conclusion, Guided By Voices pulled out a few selections from their 1994 album Bee Thousand. “I Am A Scientist” and “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” are two of the album’s more reserved moments, and the band managed to play both selections with an increased vitality without going overboard. GBV left the stage and returned for an impressive three encores, firing off fan favorites like “A Salty Salute,” “Smothered In Hugs,” and “Shocker in Gloomtown.” Even more impressive, however, was the set closer, a cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” with Pollard and company delivering the rock anthem as if they were in a setting ten times Turner Hall’s size.