Monty bar was popping off long before Guided by Voices hit the stage at the Teragram a few doors down. The band were busy downing Miller Lights and rubbing shoulders with the fans that keep the GBV legend strong. At first, my understanding of Guided by Voices’ cult status was merely a reflection of their prolificness. Having recorded 35 albums, one expects every show to last at least three hours, with a setlist spanning decades. Such was the case for this night where for 50 songs, Robert Pollard and company pulled out all the stops and gave fans the full GBV experience. After getting acquainted with the fans of Guided by Voices, it became much clearer to me why this band is so beloved that people will travel from different continents just to follow them around on tour or go to one show in Los Angeles.
There were fans from New York, Seattle, Wales and Australia in our circle as we waited for the band to go on. Everyone was so incredibly welcoming and excited about seeing their favorite band that their enthusiasm made me want to join the family myself, in an admittedly poser move. I was curious though, what about the band’s sound could inspire so much devotion from such a range of people. Listening to the band’s top rated songs before the show, I was surprised they sounded so lo-fi. I dug it, seeing as Los Angeles is fertile ground for any sort of garage rock, Guided by Voices makes sense for a native Angelino like myself. Then at the show, I was treated to a fuller sound, with alternative rock riffs that carry this driving, uplifting feel, this sense of constantly moving forward through any obstacles. That’s not projection, go to a GBV show and hear it for yourselves, the riffs objectively feel this lively.
It wasn’t until the first notes of “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” off 1994’s Bee Thousand that I got a deeper glimpse into this band’s allure when my friend’s face flushed with this unmistakably vulnerable look of their heart strings being tugged at by a song they must’ve heard many times before. I carried that image in my mind and decided to listen to the song on the drive home. On record, I experienced a different vibe than what I experienced in person. The song tapped into some kind of sacred vibration able to unlock anyone’s buried emotions. “Cold hands touching my face…” the song begins with imagery that makes you nostalgic for a moment you shared or imagined with someone special. Throughout the album, Robert Pollard’s voice and heart paint a sentimental picture of rock and roll realness. Guided by Voices has to be the least fake band in rock and roll history. Everything about them is real. Down to the most emotional, true to life songs that make you feel your ordinary humanity.
At 64, Robert Pollard can high-kick and prance on stage with the best of them. Rock and Roll keeps you young and the music of Guided by Voices lives forever, so it’s no surprise Pollard seems to defy all biological expectations for a man his age. Every member of his band was energized by him. At one point, Pollard mentioned Neil Young and “Keep on Rocking in the Free World”, only to follow up by saying the world ain’t free no more. Coming from a guy that keeps it this real, you better take that sentiment to the bank.
GBV is a band for the people. They’re so devoted to their fans, they’ve given them over 30 albums. They record and play more than the average band because they love you more than the average band. Who’s voices guide the pen of Robert Pollard? I like to think its our’s, the collective spirit of the worldwide GBV cult, combined into one soft, inspiring vibration.
Words by: Robert Shepyer
Photos by: Audrey Kemp