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
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
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
(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!"