'Guided by Voices' Catapults From Obscurity to Stardom

Midwestern group is rock media's current darling

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

'Doesn't that song make you feel loved," cooed Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard to a rapturous crowd during a recent concert at New York City's Irving Plaza.

Pollard - a former schoolteacher now in the midst of a second career as an alterna-rock star - could not have described his band's music any better: "It's a rock-and-roll serenade." Simply put, Guided by Voices performs catchy, melodic pop songs that sound even better live than they do on a CD player.

After 100 minutes and three encores, Pollard and his skilled band mates from Dayton, Ohio, cemented their fabled live reputation, performing more than 30 quick, up-tempo songs about everything from relationships to extraterrestrials.

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These middle-aged rockers were certainly enjoying this belated run at stardom: Pollard, resplendent in a stars-and-stripes shirt, pranced around the stage, punctuating the punchier songs with leg kicks and microphone wire twirls.

Other members of the band were egging on its growing flock of followers, waving them up onto the stage. In the end, however, it was Pollard's otherworldly vocals and songwriting skills that made the Guided by Voices experience such a pleasure to eye and ear.

Pollard's sweet, angelic voice repeatedly rose above the backing band's wall of jagged guitar noise, especially on the Pink Floyd-inspired "Always Crush Me" (from their 1995 album "Alien Lanes," rated one of the top albums of the year by a host of rock critics) and the alluring "Underwater Explosions," from "Under the Bushes Under the Stars" (Matador Records), the group's recently released album.

Each hummable ditty was full of pithy phrases such as "the closer you are, the quicker it hits ya' " from the song "Closer You Are" (from "Alien Lanes") and "I am a lost soul, I shoot myself with rock n' roll" from the popular song "I Am a Scientist," from the 1994 album "Bee Thousand."

One reason Guided by Voices is rock media's present-day darling is because of the group's meteoric rise from obscurity: Pollard, a father of two teenagers and the band's prolific songwriter, taught fourth grade until last year; drummer Kevin Fennell just left his counseling gig, and guitarist Mitch Mitchell recently quit his job working in a sandpaper factory.

The prolific group, basically a rotating mix of Pollard's friends, recorded almost a decade's worth - literally hundreds - of songs in a basement before venturing above ground to do its latest album.

Guided by Voices is hard to define. The band has been influenced by everyone from the Beatles to the Blue Oyster Cult. And while its four- and eight-track "basement" albums sound as if they are being performed in your living room, the live concerts push the band's harmonious, experimental rock to another level of fluidity.

When Guided by Voices lurches into the propulsive "Motor Away," replete with its fuzzy guitar hooks and Pollard's echoing vocals, one can only hope this once-obscure band from middle America continues to release albums until all the band members become grandparents.

* Guided by Voices performs at European festivals through the first week of July before heading to Australia. Concert dates can be found on the group's website: www.gbv.com. US dates for fall concerts should be announced soon.

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