Guided by Voices

Live from Austin TX

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Given Robert Pollard's skewed but enthusiastic embrace of rock classicism (evidenced by his shared obsession with the Beatles and the Who), it's surprising that Guided by Voices never got around to releasing that staple of rock & roll traditionalists, the double live album (beyond giving their blessings to a couple of authorized semi-bootlegs, Jellyfish Reflector and Crying Your Knife Away). But two years after Pollard retired Guided by Voices, the band finally gets the twin-disc concert document treatment with Live from Austin TX, which preserves the 30-song set GBV played during a November 2004 taping of the PBS series Austin City Limits on their farewell tour. While the DVD Guided by Voices: The Electrifying Conclusion offers a writ-large record of GBV's last days (taped during the band's marathon final gig), this more compact offering serves a similar function -- while not the definitive word on a live Guided by Voices gig, it captures their many strengths and occasional weaknesses very well indeed. While Guided by Voices lost a bit of their semi-pro charm in their last years, as a live act they were near the peak of their abilities when they set out on their final road trip, and the band sounds little short of remarkable during this set; Doug Gillard and Nate Farley's guitars channel the melodic glory of Pollard's songs through the thunder of a stack of amps as bassist Chris Slusarenko and drummer Kevin March drive these songs like Mario Andretti. The set list for this show jumps back and forth through the Guided by Voices time line, and nearly everything sounds like a winner as these musicians spin gold from their leader's singular pop hooks. And as for Robert Pollard, he was clearly allowed to drink as much beer as he wanted during the course of the taping, and over the course of 88 minutes he gets progressively sloppier, and while there's no arguing he was giving the crowd his all during this concert, his devolution from the confident frontman shouting "Say it! Learn it! Know it!" as his fans shout "Gee! Bee! Vee!" at the outset to the mush-mouthed guy who can barely pronounce the words to "Echoes Myron" at the end of the night is either amusing or a little sad depending on your perspective (though Pollard's drinking was also an integral part of GBV's live show for years). Live from Austin TX is Guided by Voices presented warts and all, and if the band's shortcoming are sometimes audible, their great music also rings out loud and clear and it's a valuable addition to their recorded legacy.

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