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GBV Show Off Big-Rock Moves

Arms waving and microphones twirling, Guided by Voices headlined indie-rock bill at Noise Pop Fest.

SAN FRANCISCO -- They came from the hills, they came from the flatlands. The

unwashed hordes huddled in groups Saturday night outside Bimbo's 365 Club.

Was an ex-member of the Grateful Dead making a special appearance? Phish rumored

to be in town? No, these were Guided by Voices fans awaiting the next visitation from the

indie-rock band and its leader, Robert Pollard.

"This is my 18th Guided show, and my eighth city seeing them in," said Scott Remillard,

28, who had flown in from Boston for the show.

The band did not disappoint. Headlining a sold-out show at the seventh annual Noise

Pop festival -- which ended Sunday -- Pollard and the boys worked through a two-hour

set that covered everything from late-'80s and early-'90s chestnuts such as "How Loft Am

I?" to recent cuts from Pollard's third solo disc, Kid Marine (1999). GBV also

showcased material from an as-yet-unreleased album they recorded last year with Cars

leader Ric Ocasek producing.

"You guys are rock 'n' rollers!" Pollard pronounced halfway through the set, after an

incendiary version of "Teenage FBI" (from the 1997 EP Wish in One Hand). The

Noise Pop crowd applauded boisterously at both the song and the compliment from

Pollard, a veritable elder statesman in the indie-rock scene. Pollard reached back to the

cooler sitting near the drum riser to replenish his Budweiser supply before finishing his

couplet: "Since the days when you were in strollers."

Pollard chuckled at his corny quip and grinned mischievously through his rebellious

cigarette smoke -- California forbids smoking in bars -- at his bandmates. The 1999

incarnation of the ever-shifting GBV clearly was having fun onstage. Pollard, lead

guitarist Doug Gillard, rhythm guitarist Nate Farley, bassist Greg Demos and ex-Breeder

Jim Macpherson on drums waved their arms with nearly every chord crash, twirled

microphones and raucously stirred up their heady, patented brew of Big Rock.

In doing so, GBV provided an obvious contrast to some of the tentative, textured offerings

from the earlier acts. San Francisco's Snowmen drifted in with their surf/synth/drone

psychedelia, taking full advantage of the arsenal of guitars behind them to switch from

one lush tuning to another. The band also employed the Yo La Tengo/Sebadoh

maneuver of rotating instruments among band members.

There'll be no tweaking of their name from Snowmen to Showmen, however. Lead

singer Cole Marquis (ex-28th Day) remained largely immobile behind the mic in his red

shirt and 10-gallon hat and apologized for lyrical gaffes.

Local heroes Beulah turned off the drone knob that the Snowmen had left on and

immediately bounded into ramshackle harmonies and happy horn flourishes. If

bubblegum pop acts Josie and the Pussycats and the Bay City Rollers trashed a room in

the Neutral Milk Hotel, the resulting room-service bill no doubt would be printed on

Beulah stationery.

But even Beulah's off-kilter gait couldn't keep them from stepping in an indie-rock cliche:

the apologetic frontman. Singer Miles Kurosky apologized profusely for "not wanting to

stand on a soapbox" before complaining about a local guitar shop's lack of a return

policy.

People go to festivals like Noise Pop to see bands they like, not to hear those bands

apologize for mistakes few people notice or to riddle their banter with disclaimers. And

GBV were here to give the people what they wanted.

Pollard was like a drunk uncle one moment and a drill sergeant the next, leading the

band through hammering versions of "Your Name Is Wild" and

"Bulldog Skin"

(RealAudio excerpt). Bassist Demos -- arguably GBV's biggest fan -- somehow found time to play his

instrument in between microphone-less sing-alongs and poses that would have made

Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris proud.

Toward the end of the show, the beer supply dwindled, and things got a little sloppy, but

neither the band nor audience seemed to care. The GBV followers that had come from

afar had found the delirium they'd sought. A lyric from the evening's last song, "Echos

Myron," from Bee Thousand (1994) summed it up perfectly: "And we're finally

here. And shit yeah it's cool!"