BACK IN THE SANDBOX: “We’re approaching this as a reunion tour — come see the classic line-up for the last time,” says Tobin Sprout.
When Guided by Voices announced their reunion tour this year — following the lead of fellow alt-rock icons the Pixies, Mission of Burma, the Stooges, and Pavement — it marked a milestone of sorts for the Dayton band. This is arguably the first conventional career move they've ever made.
To judge from the set lists and advance reports, this is a nostalgic reunion tour, one guaranteed to help you relive that moment when you first heard Bee Thousand. (For me, that was during a three-hour traffic pile-up getting to 1994's Lollapalooza.) The line-up now touring (it'll reach the Paradise on Friday) is the same one that made that album — singer and mastermind Robert Pollard flanked by guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos, and drummer Kevin Fennell. The set list is full of golden oldies; they even have a neon sign reading "The Club Is Open" — the welcoming catchphrase from "A Salty Salute," which opened both the band's best album (1995's Alien Lanes) and all the recent shows.
According to Sprout, the one go-round is all we're likely to get. "We're approaching this as a reunion tour — come see the classic line-up for the last time," he tells me. "I can't describe how it was when I walked into Mitch's garage [for rehearsal]. Greg said that the hair on his arms stood up when the band was all together for the first time in 14 years. I don't want it to end, but I think we see this tour for what it is."
That '94-'95 line-up didn't have all the best songs — later gems "Everywhere with Helicopter" and "Bulldog Skin" won't be heard this year. But it did have Sprout, the second-best writer in GbV. And it had the magic that came from sheer improbability. Bee Thousand was the seventh album by a veteran band, but most people who'd drive three hours to Lollapalooza didn't know that — what they heard was an album that was totally wrong and totally right. The crappy sound just threw the songs into sharper focus, bringing memories of what the Beatles sounded like on transistor radios. (It became clear that GbV's "lo-fi" was not an accident only when fans got hold of the band's first EP, Forever Since Breakfast, an unspectacular but hi-fi R.E.M. sound-alike.)
"Lo-fi just happened to be affordable at the time," says Sprout. "If the performance was there, that seemed to be what mattered. We re-recorded a couple of songs we did on four-track in 'real' studios, but with all the slick sound, I don't think it matched up to the originals."