Monday, November 27, 2006

Robert Pollard - Bowery Ballroom - New York - Nov. 13th

Who is Robert Pollard?

Robert Pollard pretends that he's not here to bullshit anybody. He wears a sky blue gas station attendant shirt that harkens back to his youth in America's heartland, but, upon closer inspection, the shirt has "U.S. Mustard Company" written on its back (from a song off From a Compound Eye, released earlier this year) and is for sale at the merch stand downstairs. Seems he's as much of "straight shooter" as Mr. Bush. Is this the schoolteacher who founded the seminal Guided by Voices twenty years ago or is this the megalomaniacal control freak who disbanded them in 2004?

Pollard rips through a case of beers (on ice in a tub in front of the drumset), half a pack of fags, and the Democratic majority of a bottle of cheap booze at the Bowery. He also tears through over forty songs and close to half of them are shit. Two minutes long, hammering and headbanging one minute, dead the next, no hook - most of Pollard's solo songs can't stand up to the neuvo-classic Guided by Voices tracks laid down on hallmarks Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes (although new numbers from Normal Happiness - released in October - sound more promising).

On what he says is his hot hit (his sloppy verbosity gets him into some sticky situations), "Towers and Landslides," Pollard's vocal dexterity exemplified in his GbV days – oh, the days - is evident. In a Joe Cocker stance, he clasps a beer in one paw and the mic in the other, bellowing from Eddie Veddar lows to Jack White highs. One wonders why he doesn't tone down his prolificacy (BMI has him as the author of 924 songs) in favor of discrimination.

The "ex-jock" doesn't touch any instruments; he leaves that to the other boys. He high-fives and fist pounds the rowdy audience, encourages surfing, and gets utterly smashed.

All hail Robert Pollard, head of his own frat party.

And what would a fraternity be without some hazing? During a few of his drunken rants, he rips everyone from The Strokes to Lou Reed a new asshole. In a particularly poignant Pollard moment, he suggests a title for The Who's new release: Who Gives a Fuck? I would ask the same question of Mr. Pollard.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Built to Spill – Warsaw – Brooklyn, New York – Oct. 3rd

Doug Martsch should be happier than he is. He should, at least, crack a smile. Here, in Brooklyn, on Tuesday, Built to Spill were more than “all business.” They were pissed.

Railing against established musical models (and sounds) since 1992, Built to Spill set up a framework for legions of independent bands like Modest Mouse, Wolf Parade, and Tapes n’ Tapes. At the Warsaw, a Polish community center-cum-hipster hotspot, they made it clear that they want to be in charge of their own destiny - so much so that Martsch doubled as the resident AV operator and, more than once, had to delay playing to change DVDs for the backdrop. And if they don’t want to fall under the influence of improper broadcasts, you can imagine what they have to say about the current U.S. administration. Martsch’s rambling political commentary culminated in an entire video diatribe about overreactions to eco-terrorism (with a live soundtrack to boot) and a cover of the Gladiators’ protest song “Rearrange.” Built to Spill doesn’t want to be told what to do.

And why should they? The formula works. You In Reverse, released in June, didn’t exactly follow on the heels of 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future. BTS took their time, skipping around between Seattle and their base in Boise. Against many predictions, they made one of the best albums of their career. Tracks like “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” “The Wait,” and “Conventional Wisdom” are as epic as Built to Spill will ever get (twenty minute covers of “Cortez the Killer” aside). And they’re even more epic live.

On “Wisdom,” Martsch hammered the last verses lyrics home for the sold-out crowd to hear and everybody knew who he was giving the finger to: “They don’t know they're wrong / But you know that they never can see that / That’s what makes them strong / That they know that we'll never see.” Then, the floating chord progressions dangled in a way more reminiscent of a jam band than the founding fathers of indie rock. It allowed for some time to consider just what these guys were getting at; the only real conclusion reached at the Warsaw that night was that they were crafting tight tunes.

The new tracks were the real standouts, even if they weren’t instant sing-alongs like “The Plan” just yet. Reflection on Built to Spill’s new potential didn’t last too long, though, as a more rowdy member of the audience threw a cup on stage and got the attention of Martsch: “Who threw that cup!?” Built to Spill were still pissed.