by Kaleb Asplund
Photography by Dhal Smith
“I am a lost soul, I shoot myself with rock and roll
the hole I dig is bottomless, but nothing else will set me free”
— Guided By Voices, “I Am A Scientist”
With more than 100 albums under his belt, Robert Pollard has thousands of perfect setlists to choose from when Guided By Voices goes on tour. The well really is bottomless, especially with a current lineup featuring longtime guitar ace Doug Gillard on lead and Bobby Bare, Jr. on rhythm and sparkling backup vocals. But through 30 years of recording and a beloved run of indie-rock classics in the 1990s, Guided By Voices is very much an active band, and convincingly demonstrated its vitality at Mohawk.
The band showed supreme confidence in this year’s Space Gun by strolling out in matching sparkling gold jackets emblazoned with the album title and then banging out the first five songs on the record. It’s a high-water mark in the entire GBV catalog and, from the anthemic title track to the perfect nervous energy of “See My Field,” these songs absolutely warranted the prime placement.
The first fan favorite of the night was next, “Jane Of The Waking Universe” from 1997’s Mag Earwhig!, also the first GBV record that Gillard played on. It wasn’t until the 10th song that Pollard went to a signature ‘90s cut, and the crowd responded with a hearty singalong on “Motor Away.”
Through the middle of the more than two-hour set, the band pulled heavily from 21st century GBV records and other Pollard projects such as Boston Spaceships, whose “Earmarked For Collision” from 2011’s Let It Beard was a standout. Even the title track from Gillard’s 2014 solo record Parade On got a workout, the classic power pop song fitting in perfectly and giving Pollard a chance to rest his voice.
Red meat for ‘90s fans showed up every half-dozen songs or so to loud cheers, but Pollard’s songwriting genius rarely slips, and following up 1996’s frantic “Cut-Out Witch” with the wistful “It’s a Pleasure Being You” from 2010 solo record Moses On A Snail proved his mastery of both craft and performance. And when a zealous fan jumped onstage to close out “I Am A Scientist” by gripping him in a one-armed hug and singing into his mic, Pollard showed well-practiced grace and nonchalance.
As GBV entered the final portion of the set, the favorites stuffed on essential 2003 compilation Human Amusements At Hourly Rates came more frequently and the sweaty crowd shouted back every word of “Tractor Rape Chain,” “A Salty Salute” and “Game Of Pricks,” and many others. Pollard and band punctuated their hits with great cuts from Space Gun (13 of its 15 tracks played in all) and last year’s pair of GBV albums August By Cake and How Do You Spell Heaven to only the slightest tempering of enthusiasm.
After ending the main set with “Recovering,” the closer from Pollard’s 2006 double-album From A Compound Eye, delirious fans only had a minute or two to chant “G! B! V!” before the band was back onstage with a blazing encore that sandwiched new tunes like “5 Degrees On The Inside” and “The Birthday Democrats” between “Echos Myron” from Bee Thousand and send-off pair “The Official Ironmen Rally Song” and “Glad Girls.”
Exhausted but sated with 50 songs that covered just the barest fraction of Pollard’s output, a happy crowd cheered their heroes into the night.
Check out Dhal Smith’s complete photo set of the show here.
Kaleb Asplund can be found around Austin hosting Karaoke Underground with his wife Hannah Ford as well as in the bands Math Patrol and The Spoils.