Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review: Guided by Voices' 'Live from Austin, TX'

Although I'd seen Guided by Voices live a number of times, and knew their routine pretty well, I was still shocked to see their performance on the concert series Austin City Limits in 2005. Well-known for lubricating his performances with buckets of Rolling Rock, Robert Pollard held nothing back for his public television debut. His slurring and capering and hilariously inebriated rants were not the kinds of things you usually saw on PBS. 

But it wouldn't have been a GBV show without the beer, and since Pollard had already announced his band's eminent breakup during a show at NYC's Bowery Ballroom (I was there!), he must have realized that he had nothing to lose. Or maybe he just had a serious drinking problem.

In any event, the Austin City Limits performance offered as much unpredictability, energy, sloppiness, and charm as any Guided by Voices performance. Hearing the full performance on New West Records' Live from Austin, TX, nearly twenty years later, I'm actually surprised that it holds up so wonderfully as a listening experience. The band's line up in 2004, when the performance was recorded, was not their most celebrated, but it was certainly one of their most professional. Not indulging nearly as much as their frontman, stalwart guitarist Doug Gillard and drummer Kevin March held everything together even as Pollard has increasing trouble enunciating and bassist Chris Slusarenko and rhythm guitarist Nate Farley start sliding off course a bit. The setlist was terrific, favoring their latest (Half Smiles of the Decomposed) and most beloved (Bee Thousand) albums but sprinkling in choice selections from most of their dozen other LPs, as well as delicious obscurities like "Dayton Ohio-19 Something and 5", "Do the Earth", and the glorious "My Impression Now". By the time Pollard introduces Gillard as "Duh Gillar" before launching into an epic rendition of "Secret Star", you know he's more than three sheets to the wind, but he's still able to hit most of those high notes in "Pendulum", carry the melody of "Tractor Rape Chain", pull off the melismas of "Buzzards and Dreadful Crows", and remember most of the words to "Fair Touching". In his own sloshy way, Bob was a pro too. 

What's less surprising is how much the fun of seeing the band live during those days floods back when listening to Live from Austin, TX today. It's also valuable as the only official live GBV album on vinyl (I would sell my old ticket stubs to get a reissue of the Live from the Wheelchair Races compilation on vinyl). Originally released on black vinyl in 2017, Live from Austin, TX is about to get a special Record Store Day release on red splatter vinyl. However, the review copy I received is the previously issued black vinyl, which sounds really good on flat, well-centered vinyl. My copy was a bit crackly from inner-sleeve residue, but that washes away. 

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