GBV began as a hobby, an excuse for the then-schoolteacher Pollard to get drunk with his Dayton homies, write songs, record them on a friend's 8-track, and release what were essentially vanity pressings of albums. But, with 1992's Propeller EP and 1993's Vampire on Titus (both on Scat), the underground took notice of the band's short, hissy song snippets, which resembled vintage British Invasion-era rock tunes that luringly ended just as things were getting interesting. And when, in 1994, GBV released its masterpiece, Bee Thousand (Matador), then followed it with the nearly as great Alien Lanes (Matador) the next year, critics and fans alike were declaring Pollard a genius. By that point, the band had finally accumulated enough fans to warrant touring, and the middle-aged Pollard was able to quit his day job to do so.
Band members came and went, but through it all, the group--and loads of side projects--continued to crank out songs at a feverish pace on singles, EPs, and LPs, not to mention not one, but two box sets, easily snatching up the blue ribbon in the Most Prolific Band contest. The songs got longer and bigger-sounding, and the band, whose current lineup has remained relatively intact since 1999's Do the Collapse (TVT), eventually took to proper studios, employing such vets as Ric Ocasek and Rob Schnapf to produce, in an attempt to crash the mainstream. And while all GBV releases over the last seven or so years have had their high points, none were as great as the ramshackle Bee and Alien, and none were any too commercially successful.
Instead, they were snapped up by the band's religious cult following, a segment of which seemed peeved the albums had gotten so glossy to begin with. With the band's new release, Universal Truths and Cycles, due out on Matador, on June 18, Guided By Voices now seems intent on pleasing everyone, including themselves. The disc intersperses the unfinished-song-segment quality missing from later releases with the three-minute rockers that latter-day fans have gotten used to, as well as spans the fidelity prism from lo- to hi-. And to further the point that they're back to doing things Their Way, the album is the first since 1996 to be self-produced.
Additionally, Guided By Voices--especially in its current incarnation, with hyper-melodic guitar whiz Doug Gillard on board--is one of the most dynamic live bands on the planet. Leaving only enough time between songs for Pollard to call out the next one, GBV cranks out dozens upon dozens of anthemic and quirky Anglophile rock songs over a two-hour-plus show, while simultaneously sucking down can after can of domestic beer from an onstage cooler (or three). Pollard, the quintessential frontman, is living the Dream, kicking his legs in the air and twirling his mic by its cord, even though it took him a coon's age to get there. It's a joy to behold.
Guided By Voices, along with opener My Morning Jacket, performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 14, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $10 at the front desk. They'll be $12 on the day of the show. For bonus details call 622-8848.
TAPE WORMS: Some months back, a friend of mine with exquisitely finicky--and nearly always reliable--taste in music told me about some band whose name I've since forgotten, but whose music sounded intriguing. The band, he said, played straight-up house music, the kind usually generated entirely by faceless people with access to machines, but integrated guitars into its sound. Two days later, I was at Target of all places, when I looked up at the video monitors and saw the band in question. It sounded more like Andrew W.K. than anything to me: lotsa testosterone-fueled guitars, but a bit pumped up on electronics; danceable, in the dance club way. Or, as my friend put it, "kinda gay disco, but cool." Regardless, I was disappointed.
I'm going to call my friend and tell him to go see VHS or Beta this week, because the Louisville five-piece is exactly what I envisioned from his description of that other, now-forgotten band. If nothing else, I'll be there just to figure out how the hell these guys play this form of music--perhaps best exemplified previously by Francophiles Daft Punk and Les Rythmes Digitales, wherein 21st century technology meets '70s white-suit disco--live. You see, the difference is that VHS or Beta constructs this stuff completely without benefit of machines. The only instruments credited on the band's debut album, Le Funk (On! Records, 2001) are guitar, drums, bass, timbali, conga, djembe, and Rhodes, yet its basic sound is Tortoise masquerading as house band at a rollerdisco. Truly remarkable.
Meanwhile, Dan Geller and Amy Dykes comprise tourmates I Am the World Trade Center (yes, they named themselves when it still existed), whose laptop-created electro-pop will bring back fond memories of New Order, or a back-alley quickie between Machines of Loving Grace and Blondie (whose "Call Me" is reverently covered here).
VHS or Beta and I Am the World Trade Center perform at 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. Admission to the all-ages show is $5. For further details call 884-0874.
CIRCUS MUSIC FOR MR. BUNGLE: Imagine Frank Zappa--never guilty of being reserved--on overkill mode, with a full-on gypsy-klezmer ensemble behind him. Now add various other touches of sonic weirdness--the pipings-in of a barbershop quartet or the occasional country tune or enough found-percussion instruments to make Tom Waits jealous, for example--and you've pretty much got the gist of nine-piece co-ed collective Japonize Elefants. It's circus music for Mr. Bungle fans, and it's performed with artful aplomb.
Intrigued? Plunk down your cover at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., when the Japonize Elefants perform on a slightly raised platform, commonly known as a "stage," at 10:45 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19. For more information call 798-1298, or log onto www.plushtucson.com.
SOUL SURVIVOR: After eight years together, which bore three excellent albums chock-full of sharp stream-of-consciousness poetry laid over slippery jazz-inflected grooves and oddball samples, NYC's Soul Coughing called it quits in 2000. Since then, the band's voice, Mike Doughty, has maintained a relatively low profile as a solo artist. Sure, he's remastered and released a lost solo album that he recorded back in the mid-'90s (available at his Website, www.superspecialquestions.com), and yes, his book of poetry is set to come out any day now, but where's all the new music? Perhaps we'll find out this week, as Doughty kicks off a string of six West Coast shows in Tucson. Those itching to hear Soul Coughing favorites can rest easy as well, as his live shows are reportedly pretty evenly split between Soul Coughing tunes and solo stuff. Yay! We all go home happy.
Mike Doughty performs at 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 15, at the Hotel Congress Banquet Room, 311 E. Congress St. There will be an opening act, but details could not be confirmed at press time. Advance tickets are available for $10 at the Hotel. Call 622-8848 with questions.