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Guided By Voices

with Elf Power

Cotton Club, Atlanta GA September 8, 1999

by James Mann

photo by June Rich

Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices

"Don't call me a fucking rock star."

   Robert Pollard thus made his entrance from under the "The Club is Open" sign to the "GBV GBV GBV"-chanting crowd at the Cotton Club, a sold-out crowd made up 100% of indie-cred/eyeglass-wearing white boys.

   He quickly followed with:

   "Unless you mean it."

   And the fans of the Dayton, Ohio schoolteacher-turned-pop-icon meant it.

   From the opening "Don't Stop Now" from 1996's Under the Bushes Under the Stars , Pollard and the latest version (of possibly 51 incarnations) of Guided By Voices unabashedly rocked. Heavy on cuts from the new album, Do The Collapse , the show never lagged, and featured the best live club sound in recent memory. Stripped of the original recordings' lo-fi shortcomings, songs like "Cut-Out Witch," "I am a Tree," and others from GBV's back catalog soared, and the new material, which is anchored by the power-rock chording of guitarist Doug Gillard, expanded live into sums far greater than the component parts. Pollard still dances around like a heavyset, slightly tipsy, chain-smoking high school teacher, throwing out rock star stances amid washes of smoky light. Sure, he looks goofy, a cheerleader for a team -- indie, lo-fi music -- that revels in its hipness and hatred of all things popular, but you get the feeling he doesn't subscribe to the theory. Bringing in former Car Rik Ocasek to produce the new record is a move to the mainstream. Replacing the tinny, AM-radio sound of some early releases with the growling synths of "Teenage FBI" and such is another, and it all works. It has focused the band's attack to the point that a live show is now an almost breathless affair -- one perfect, hook-filled pop moment after another, with space and power, grand and epic.

   The show was opened by Athens' Elf Power, fresh off similar duty for REM earlier that week. On record, they benefit from multi-tracking and such -- live, the hesitant vocals and obtrusive "sound effects" detract from their sound to such an extent that it's almost painful to witness.

   The next few GBV shows will be twin bills with Cheap Trick -- now that's a pairing made in heaven...

   When acts such as Korn and Kid Rock are considered state of the art live rock, it's refreshing and invigorating to experience a band that earns its applause the old fashioned way -- with great songs, hummable hooks, and LOUD FUCKING GUITARS! It's called rock and roll, dude.

   Take the ball bearing set out of your nose and try it.