It was sort of sad last year when Robert Pollard said he was giving up touring, but maybe he just needed a break. Not a break from writing music, of course. The guy still plows ahead with more songs than should be humanly possible. I have to admit I’ve had trouble keeping track of all the Pollard music in recent years. I was a little late in getting copies of the two albums Pollard released on the same day in October. Now that I’ve heard them, I’m thinking they’re among the best work he’s done lately. Coast to Coast Carpet of Love has some of the shiny power-pop appeal of latter-day Guided By Voices records, while Standard Gargoyle Decisions has all the idiosyncracies of the classic four-track GBV era.
Pollard played just two concerts on his current “tour,” including one at Chicago’s Metro on Friday (Nov. 30), with several Chicago musicians backing him up: Jason Narducy on bass, Dag Juhlin and Mitch Marlow on guitar and David Suycott on drums. Man, Pollard played a lot of songs from his solo records that I barely recognized. The ones from the two new albums sounded really good, and the crowd loved it. In fact, after shooting photos at the front of the venue for about an hour I decided to get out of the mosh pit before either I or my camera got smashed. About halfway through the three-hour concert Pollard began sprinkling in some GBV tunes, and by the end we’d heard classics such as “I Am a Scientist” (a stripped-down version with just Narducy on guitar and Pollard handing the microphone out into the audience for vocals on one verse), “Game of Pricks” and “A Salty Salute.”
It wasn’t quite a GBV concert, but it was a close-enough simulacrum to bring back fond memories of that great band. The opening acts were pretty good. The Party Downers played fairly straightforward garage or punk rock, with the lead singer trying out some Pollard-style mike-twirling and kicks. The Death of Fashion looked and sounded at first like a self-consciously trendy band imitating the Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, but they had some really interesting guitar leads – minimalist and spiky.