What do you get when you pair together a wet-behind-the-ears NYC band obsessed with late 70s punk and a middle-aged-for-a-number-of-years-now British Invasion-obsessed group from Ohio? A virtual cage match of rock ‘n’ roll…
Fans of Guided by Voices, the band that wrote the book on lo-fi indie rock in the early 90s, packed the TLA last Friday to witness old favorites as well as songs from the band’s forthcoming album, Isolation Drills. Opening the show was the Strokes, a virtually unknown five-piece from New York City.
Almost immediately, the Strokes were met with some discontent from the audience.
“Matchbox 20,” one audience member screamed sensing some traces of modern rock-dom.
“Thanks. That’s what we were going for,” the Tony Danza-looking lead singer Julian Casablancas replied sarcastically. Casablancas was the band’s biggest problem. Whereas the other members looked the part of total coolness (complete with Faces-styled hairdos) and played tight, catchy songs in a Ramones-meets-Blondie way, the singer looked and sounded as if the attention of being in the spotlight was more pain than pleasure. His voice failed to demand attention, but overall, the Strokes had a lot more potential than the crowd indicated. A new singer couldn’t hurt, but one could do worst than the Strokes for some youthful, exuberant rock.
After a lengthy between-band wait, fans rumored about the state of GBV. One audience member said “I heard the new album sounds like Bee Thousand (the 94 album that put the band on the map).” One thing was certain: the crowd’s curiosity was brewing.
Minutes before GBV took the stage an unidentified man placed a case of beer within an arms reach of where singer Robert Pollard would be standing. Pollard is the band’s only constant member and with the name he bears the legend of one of the biggest drinking bands around. To give you some idea, Pollard was on his second beer by the third song.
Pollard took the stage in a drunken stupor. He was in fine comedic form, busting on the Trocadero and paying homage to the Khyber before beginning the show.
“We’re going to start with nine songs from our new album, Isolation Drills,” the school-teacher-turned-sorta-rock-star declared. All the audience could do was listen and hope for the best. When the nine songs were done what the fans had heard was this: 2.5 good songs (“Chasing Heather Crazy,” “Hey Cloud Girl” and the bridge of “The Enemy”), two wanky guitars turned up way too loud and that same faux-British accent that hasn’t changed one bit. The days when a long Guided By Voices song was 2:50 may be gone and the stage kicks might not be as hard, but that voice…it won’t die.
The new backing band, four guys that Pollard probably found in an instrument shop rather than at the local bar, infused older gems like “Back to Saturn X” and “The Closer You Are” with the new powerhouse rock sound. The new interpretations, while interesting, were not nearly as charming as the originals.
1999’s Do The Collapse was likely the final nail in the coffin of GBV’s lo-fi recording output. Though that album did contain it’s share of great songs (“Teenage FBI,” “Hold on Hope”), it felt like someone tried to shave and put suits on a bunch of scrubs from the local basketball court. The new sound is dorky, but what can you do? Four track recorders are arcane technology in the 21st Century. It’s sad, really.
So who arose the victor of this rock ‘n’ roll cage match?
Drum roll please…
Draw. Neither band failed to wow the crowd. Back to the garage, guys.