Concert review: Guided by Voices (with Détective) play all three kinds of rock songs at Plush on Saturday, September 29
Opening the show on Saturday night at Plush was Los Angeles-based Détective, a band consisting of former Guided by Voices bassist James Greer on vocals and guitar, Guylaine Vivarat who covered the low end and contributed vocals and Chris Dunn behind the kit.
Détective describes itself as an indie-rock outfit, which is an accurate if somewhat generic description. Dunn’s drumming was on point and tight with a lot of focus on the kit’s upper range. I mainly noticed the drum tone when Kevin Fennell of GBV joined the band on stage to play the last song of their set and it sounded as if he was playing a completely different kit.
Vivarat held down the low end well, although the cymbals and squealing feedback from Greer’s guitar washed out a fair amount of her playing. Speaking of, Greer’s guitar had a slightly overdriven tone, sounding like an angry bumblebee with a head cold. His playing made great use of muting and strumming techniques, keeping the tunes interesting even though they were fairly basic in chord structure.
The vocals were split between Vivarat and Greer. Vivarat’s alto is full of that optimistic melancholy that makes her sound both happy and sad at the same time. Greer’s voice is a rich baritone that cut through the room with the kind of tone that made me think Ben Stein was doing roll call in economics class.
Greer made for a fantastic frontman. Between songs he was bantering with the crowd and cracking jokes that weren’t forced and were actually pretty funny. Whether he was asking about what Louis did that was good enough to make him a saint and scolding the crowd for giving him conflicting information or naming all the member of Guided by Voices except for “that guy who sings or whatever,” he commanded the crowd’s attention and had everyone laughing.
I think Greer’s best quote of the evening was “There are three kinds of rock songs. There are songs about getting fucked up, songs about fucking shit up and songs about getting fucked up while fucking shit up.” Détective managed to play all three kinds, as well as a few tunes made up of all three rolled into one.
After about a half hour of setup, Guided by Voices walked out on stage and immediately began testing how resistant the venue was against earthquakes. After the first song, I was amazed at how quiet the crowd was during the playing. After the second song, I looked down from the balcony and saw that the crowd was in full tilt; it only sounded subdued because the band was drowning out everything that wasn’t on stage.
Although the sound wasn’t at the Guitar Wolf level of cilia slaughtering, it was loud enough that I’m still feeling it the next day. Plush should have charged the folks in the dining room the cost of admission since they were getting the same show as the rest of the crowd.
The show consisted of the classic lineup of Guided by Voices consisting of guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, drummer Kevin Fennell and the only consistent member of the band, vocalist Robert Pollard. Pollard’s voice hasn’t changed from the first recordings the band made in the mid-’80s. The rest of the band sounded a bit more polished than they did on those early releases, but that only adds a shine to the chunks of pure rock that these guys mined with every chord or drum hit.
Fans were able to see something that hasn’t been seen in town for quite a while: A band whose members were chain smoking on stage instead of in the alley out back. I’d heard rumors that the members of Guided by Voices enjoy their beer. Those rumors proved true. There were more fallen soldiers lying around after the third encore than at a Civil War re-enactment.
The band played a variety of tunes from various stages of its history, making a retrospective showing that the more the band progressed, the more it stayed the same. That in and of itself is a powerful message: Good music is good music, regardless of when or where it was made. I will go ahead and admit here that the only songs I knew were newer tracks like “Spiderfighter” and “Keep it in Motion.” This did not hinder my enjoyment of the show, but it will hinder my ability to pay bills since I want to go buy GBV’s entire back catalog after hearing them play.
I was also able to judge how the long-time fans felt about the show just by watching them. The amount of pogoing that went on during the GBV’s set should have set a new record; I didn’t see anything but smiles on the faces as I left the building. I couldn’t hear a damn thing the fans were saying; their faces said it all.
Correction: The review originally identified Rory Modica as Détective’s drummer, when in fact the drummer is Chris Dunn.