One Band’s Solution to a World Without Touring
One of my favorite bands, Guided by Voices (aka GBV) has found an interesting way to stay in business and keep its legion of fans engaged amidst the current pandemic. The band had to cancel its concert schedule, which would have taken it across America and into Canada and England. Instead, GBV has initiated several special programs: A virtual “world tour” livestreaming event, which aired on Friday; a fan subscription music series; and a new album coming out in August.
If you’re not familiar with GBV, they are in some ways indie rock’s answer to The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam (the last named are big GBV fans, btw). All three have fanatical, dedicated fans who gleefully collect most everything they release, from live concerts to special merchandise and a wealth of recordings. All three deliver epic live concert
experiences with long, ever-changing set lists. And they all have extensive catalogs of studio and live recordings.
GBV has released more than 100 albums and singles, and shows no signs of slowing down. Band founder, lead singer, and main songwriter Robert Pollard has built a remarkable cottage industry from home and studio recordings, DVDs, books, T-shirts, and other merchandise. GBV more or less defined the DIY indie-rock spirit of the 1990s, literally rising from Pollard’s basement to concert stages around the world. The group has succeeded against all possible odds.
For the uninitiated who may wonder what GBV sounds like, it begins with late-‘60s British Invasion sounds, such as the The Who and The Kinks mixed with the harder early-’70s vibe of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Toss in joyous power pop, new wave, bubblegum, punk, and psychedelic influences, and the result is a wonderfully eclectic brew that is new yet familiar. Earworms grow with every listen to GBV recordings. But live on stage is where the band shines and its current incarnation may be the best version yet. Borrowing a phrase from Duke Ellington: They rock madly!
For this live streaming concert, they pulled out the stops for the clubs they were scheduled to perform at on tour and the fans they would have performed for. In an interesting twist on the concert business model, each venue where they were slated to perform received 20% of every ticket sold to the Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 livestream.
Buying my ticket was as great an experience as one could imagine given the circumstances. The band was in fine form, playing on a large soundstage at a venue called The Brightside in Dayton, Ohio which offered band members proper social distancing, access to good lighting, and professional sound reinforcement. For a group that thrives on its audiences, pulling off a show like this must have been challenging, yet there was no shortage of musical energy as the band simply drove on from one song to the next for about two and a half hours.
Fan favorites were abundant, including “Chasing Heather Crazy,” “Cut Out Witch,” “Motor Away,” “Echoes Myron,” “I Am a Scientist,” “The Best of Jill Hives,” and “I Am a Tree.” They were no doubt focused on this year’s release, Surrender Your Poppy Field, offering up at least 10 of that album’s 15 tracks. There were also some rarities, and I suspect there were new songs from the upcoming album Mirrored Aztec. I’m still taking in the 52-song set list!
One benefit of a show like this is the band could focus on performing without the pressures of a packed house, quirky sound systems, and inadequate monitoring. This was never more evident than during the beautiful bridge to “Glad Girls,” where all the band members harmonized splendidly. Their five-part harmonies on “Teenage FBI” and “The Goldheart Mountaintop
Queen Directory” were similarly impressive. These details can get overlooked in a traditional concert setting.
Watching the Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 livestream was in many ways like being a fly on the wall for a concert-tour dress rehearsal. That they chose to share this with their fans is wonderful thing.
Production-wise, the livestream was crafted to a quite high standard.
While they likely couldn’t have multiple camera people in the facility and on stage, they still had multiple camera angles (seven, in fact). I suspect they used GoPro-type cameras set up strategically around the stage, intercut to keep the action interesting and exciting.
Image quality was really very nice even at only 720p resolution, with a warm blue hue that allowed the stage lights to illuminate the band without much distraction (even the band members were dressed in muted blues, which streamed well without many artifacts). The audio was 24-bit / 44.1 kHz, so all things considered the sound was pretty great for a hard-rocking band firing with all cylinders on—drums, bass, two electric guitars in all their fiery Marshall-amped glory!
If I had a criticism of this virtual concert experience it would be to add some level of interactivity so fans could offer feedback to the band. At minimum, it would be nice if you could text in requests and such. Fortunately during the show, many fans (myself included) congregated on the band’s Facebook page, sharing the buzz about the event and its evolving set list, which was fun.
As I mentioned, the band recently started a wonderful subscription series, which I just joined via their website. Called “Hot Freaks” (named for a classic GBV song), for $100 you get all manner of live concerts, unreleased demos, previews for upcoming records, special video clips, and other special goodies. On the day after I joined, they sent me about a dozen emails with download links to catch me up on the program. I’m already overwhelmed—in a good way—and this is just the start of a year-long subscription.
So, yes, this is how you keep the music flowing even when the chips appear down, folks. Guided by Voices World Tour 2020 will continue to be streaming for the next several days, so if you are a fan or simply curious, it is a good deal. You’ll be supporting a great American rock band and you’ll get a download of the concert audio to enjoy as well.
Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound & Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?