Guided by Voices' Mitch Mitchell is a truck driver first and an indie-rock guitar god second. "I've got the best job in the world, dude," he tells the Scene via phone from his rig, en route between drop-offs. "I get to play great songs in a good band with some killer dudes, and what could be better than that?" He's talking about the latter of his two gigs. "It gives me something to look forward to at the end of the week." He's spent the past two years performing with the band on the indie-rock oldies circuit, and he knows it's not a gig to take for granted.
Pathologically capricious (and often genius) GBV lead singer-songwriter Robert Pollard abruptly ousted Mitchell along with the rest of his drinking-buddy bandmates in 1996, marking the end of an era that yielded lo-fi indie staples like Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes — albums that cast a long shadow over literally dozens of scattershot LPs Pollard has released as a solo artist, a collaborator and with subsequent GBV lineups over the past 30 years. "I was kind of bummed that I wasn't gonna be a part of it anymore," Mitchell recalls, "but being a fan as well as a member of the band, I was happy that they kept putting out really good records."
In 2010, Pollard reunited the "Classic '93-'96" Guided by Voices lineup to perform at Matador Records' 21st anniversary celebration in Las Vegas. What started as a one-off reunion gig soon ballooned into an ostensibly yearlong tour, and now what seems like a trek down an endless road. Like the drunk uncle he fashions himself as onstage, Pollard does not make music in moderation. And while Guided by Voices' reunion jaunts are over, the band is back, as real and prolific as ever, despite Pollard's promises.
"I plan to play shows sporadically as offers come in until the fall [of 2011]," Pollard told the Scene in January of last year. "That will be the wrap-up of Guided By Voices, barring some sort of spectacular 'can't refuse' offer." Didn't happen. When asked about the prospect of the classic GBV lineup recording new material, Pollard replied, "I couldn't 100 percent say no, but I have no plans. I've got too many other projects going on." Indeed he did.
In the intervening 18 months, Pollard has put out three solo LPs (with another forthcoming), a double-LP with his other band, Boston Spaceships, an LP with his other other band, Circus Devils, an LP with his other other other band, Lifeguards, an LP with his other other other other band, Mars Classroom ... you get the picture. Still, when it comes to GBV, those who took Pollard's break-up announcement with a grain of salt were wise to do so. The band's Let's Go Eat the Factory came out in January. Its successor, Class Clown Spots a UFO, followed in June. And a third 2012 full-length, Bears for Lunch, is tentatively slated for the fall.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Mitchell says of Pollard's decision to continue Guided by Voices in the studio. "I think [the new recordings] are really good, really strong — as good as what we've done in the past, and I think that's the reason why we're continuing."
While many have received the band's reunion records as throwbacks to the unbidden, lo-fi, lyrically abstruse sound of Guided by Voices' '90s classics — and in the case of rickety-though-rousing dishwater pop gems like "The Unsinkable Fats Domino," "Waves" and "No Transmission" and whacked-out, minute-or-less-long experiments like the ironically titled "Be Impeccable," it's true — Pollard leads the band into synth- and string-suffused territory previously uncharted by this lineup. "Keep It in Motion," the gorgeous Tobin Sprout and Pollard duet "Doughnut for a Snowman," Sprout's "Old Bones," the moody "Hang Mr. Kite" and the post-punky, GBV-does-Joy Division "God Loves Us" are among the best songs from the sprawling pair of recently released records, and that ain't just the song titles talkin'.
Factory and Class Clown have a whopping 42 songs between them (though nearly all are under three minutes in length, many under one minute), and judging by recent set lists, the band will likely play roughly half of them at tonight's show. "I remember when we first started playing Alien Lanes songs live, people were kinda, like, weirded out, because those were all new songs too," Mitchell notes. He mentions a recent hometown Dayton, Ohio, gig that boasted a 60-song set list. That still leaves plenty of room for back-catalog fist-pumpers like "Exit Flagger," "Echos Myron," "Motor Away" and "Game of Pricks" — four of the 100 songs Mitchell reckons the band currently has in its live repertoire.
"I've always said, 'If [GBV] ends today, I'm the happiest guy on earth, because I got to be a part of it,' " Mitchell says. "The fact that it's still going on is awesome." If Pollard is going to inevitably pull the plug on the band, let's hope he at least waits until tomorrow.
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