Guided by Voices with Superchunk and Crooked Fingers

Thursday, Nov. 4; Mississippi Nights

The unofficial Guided by Voices League has always placed head Voice Robert Pollard on the proverbial pedestal, claiming that, had their boy genius a proper recording studio, some cash flow and some room to roam, he (and whomever the current band is -- Pollard goes through band members as he goes through bottles of Budweiser) could bang out a perfect, glistening rock product, one that would stand alongside the melodic achievements of the Beatles, Big Star and whomever you put in that particular pop/rock trophy cabinet -- one that would both contain those melodies and sound "professional."

If only he'd quit that lo-fi shtick and move into a real studio, get a real producer and take that magic "seriously," he could be famous and respected. Why? Because Pollard sure can write a melody. He seems to pull them out of his ass at whim; with every album a dozen or so gems with absolutely meaningless lyrics that somehow work wonders within the context of the melodies. You know the way a person has a particular talent for, say, memorizing palindromes or 42,000 digits of pi? Pollard has that sort of mysterious talent with melody, and we're the better for it.

Their recent albums have moved in the "professional" direction; they've graduated from basement four-track recordings (if, indeed, those early releases, including the glorious Bee Thousand, were even that hi-fi) to working with Cars boy Ric Ocasek on the new Do the Collapse (TVT). Sure enough, the great songs are there, but alas, Pollard just doesn't seem to be challenging himself; any of these songs could have been on those early gems, or vice versa. Often it's as if he's doing the equivalent of flipping burgers for a living. He sure can get medium-rare exactly medium-rare, and these are some whopping good burgers, but maybe he should occasionally try his hand at a savory casserole, or at least toss in some Hamburger Helper.

The same goes for Superchunk, who open the show. They, too, have brought on a big-name producer this time around to help them break their mold (in 'Chunk's case, it's Chicago glory-boy Jim O'Rourke), and their recent Come Pick Me Up (Merge) is more successful. Though they still rely on guitar anthems and the exact same frazzled guitar sound that made their early work so frenzied, O'Rourke has pushed them, thrown in a string section and some horns (courtesy of Chicago players Ken Vandermark and Jeb Bishop) to add texture. It's no great revelation but is yet another solid record.

Also on the bill are Crooked Fingers, the product of Eric Bachmann, formerly of Archers of Loaf and Barry Black. GBV and Superchunk would do well to pay attention to Bachmann; he's always pushing himself in new directions and is usually successful.

 
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