I’m not one of those people who think Guided by Voices were sent by the Lord to bring us rock, but in this era of shrinking expectations for the genre you have to admire the band for thinking big. Since 1986, when front man Robert Pollard began following those voices away from his job as a Dayton grade-school teacher, GBV have recorded and released a staggering 349 songs–and from the length of their sets you’d think they were trying to play them all. The first time I saw them, they trooped onstage at a quarter to midnight and didn’t leave until almost 3 AM. Oddly, Pollard manages to think big by thinking small, maintaining an almost microscopic focus on the hook; on albums like Bee Thousand (1994) the songs seem almost modular in the way they set it up, work it for a minute or so, and end just a moment before you begin to crave something more. Isolation Drills is the band’s second album since signing to TVT and entering the brave new world of high-end recording. Like their previous release, Do the Collapse, the new album proves that Pollard’s gift for melody can transcend FM gloss as handily as it did the cotton-wrapped sound of the band’s early records–though predictably it needs pruning. This show is an anchor for Noise Pop Chicago, and I’m looking forward to seeing GBV play a place where their stadium-rock gestures will have more room to echo–but I may also bring a toothbrush and a change of clothes. Local heroes the Chamber Strings open. Saturday, May 12, 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 773-559-1212.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.