There must be some alternate universe along the space-time continuum where Guided By Voices is the biggest band in the world. That's certainly how the group has carried itself through the last 30 years. Started as a sort of bite-sized, basement-brand version of the Who, GBV is basically a decades-old rock'n'roll fantasy camp for midwestern songwriting machine Robert Pollard and the dozens of other musicians to pass through its ranks. But after so many years of playing the role, the fantasy has blurred into a kind of reality: To a certain generation of indie-rock fans, GBV is the greatest damn rock'n'roll band around.
That's certainly how the sold-out crowd at the Wonder Ballroom treated them on Saturday night. In a city where audiences are more likely chat among themselves than sing along, it was heartening to be amongst a bunch of middle-aged dudes spilling PBR on themselves while fist-pumping to sub-three minute anthems like "Game of Pricks," "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows" and "Motor Away." Not that the band left a lot of room for talking: It ran through its sprawling, 40-plus song set list at a breakneck, Ramones-like pace, interspersing newer tracks from the whopping six albums it's released since reforming in 2010 with classics from the band's '90s heyday.
Though GBV has always been a vehicle for Pollard's seemingly endless repository of pop hooks, this incarnation of the group—the "classic lineup" that recorded 1994's seminal Bee Thousand, sans recently axed drummer Kevin Fennell—isn't just his backing band. As Pollard guzzled beers from an onstage cooler, swung the microphone and high-kicked like a paunchier David Lee Roth, the other musicians acted out their own amusing bits of rock-star histrionics. Guitarist Mitch Mitchell windmilled his axe and sang backup through the cigarette dangling from his lip. Bassist Greg Demos, dressed in his customary vest-and-frilly shirt combo, alternated between lifting his bass over his head and sticking it between his legs and charging the audience. Tobin Sprout—the George Harrison to Pollard's Lennon-McCartney hybrid, dutifully plugged away at his riffs, before stepping to the mic to sing his "Here Comes the Sun," Alien Lanes' "A Good Flying Bird."
As the crowd filed out of the Wonder two hours later, following a rousing "A Salty Salute," I ran into a friend of mine, who immediately blurted out, "Better than the Beatles!" Admittedly, he was a bit intoxicated. But that's the thing about Guided By Voices: Viewed through the lens of high-prescription beer goggles, no band looks better.
All photos by Thomas Teal.