Though, from the start, you had to applaud all of the ingredients in Guided By Voices’ effervescent mix—from short, sharp, smart art-punk a la Wire to the best first-wave Britpop like the Creation and the Kinks—I never was a major fan of the group in its heyday, mostly because it was too damn prolific. Yes, there might have been 10 exquisite gems on an album. But there were 30 songs, often on two albums a year, and the other 40 tunes, truth be told, kinda sucked.
Then, too, there was the uncertainty of the band’s live shows, which were famously dependent upon bandleader Robert Pollard’s, um, state of mind at the time.
The GBV that took the stage at Pitchfork, however, was the band at its very best—a reunion of most fans’ favorite lineup, with Pollard, guitarists Tobin Sprout and Charles Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennel, playing songs from “Bee Thousand,” “Alien Lanes,” and other favorites from 1992 to 1996.
Opening with a delightful guest turn by Neko Case on “Echos Myron,” through the end of a stellar set 45 minutes later, Pollard and his bandmates rode a rollicking sugar buzz—and thankfully that was the they only substance abused—delivering one insanely catchy mini-anthem after another in a blur of ringing chords, rousing choruses, and propulsive rhythms.
Yeah, it was an oldies show. But it was a pretty great one, and a nice lift after Thurston’s lull.
Rating for GBV: 7.6.
Next up, Neko calmed things down again during her headlining set, but in the gorgeous, heartfelt, and sultry way that is her specialty, and perfectly timed to the setting sun and the day’s first hint of a welcome breeze.
A few weeks ago, a Twitter sniper gave me crap for calling Neko “a chanteuse,” noting that critics can’t ever come up with another word for this massive talent and notorious wandering soul. I’ve always intended it as the highest compliment: For the word to fit, you really have to be able to sing. That incredible vocal instrument is what sets Neko apart, on top of her evermore impressive abilities as a songwriter, and it held the large crowd in the park spellbound in a way that nothing else during day one did, through a set of favorites and two new songs from an album we probably can expect next year.
Rating for Neko Case: 7.8.
Finally, Animal Collective closed things out on the main stages. The set started strong, with the group delivering focused, concise, and entrancing versions of its trippy psychedelic pop songs.
Alas, midway through its performance, the band shifted into its dreadful imitations of the Grateful Dead’s “Drums and Space,” jamming out its electronic grooves with a bit of space-swirl vamp, and causing painful and unpleasant flashbacks to last year’s abysmal set by the absurdly overrated Panda Bear (Noah Lennox). And thus day one petered out in a most uninspiring way.
Rating for Animal Collective: 2.4.
PITCHFORK 2011 IN THIS BLOG:
July 15: EMA, tUnE-yArDs and Thurston Moore
July 15: Here we are now, entertain us.