The last time your favorite band came to town, how many songs did they play? Did they do a ten song set and get on the bus for the next town? Were they feeling gracious and gave you fifteen songs in an hour? Well, Robert Pollard brought his new band, Boston Spaceships, to Cleveland last night and they played for more than two hours and more than 40 songs. Yes, you read that right, a 40 song set list with multiple encores drawing from his recent solo albums, his latest band, The Boston Spaceships, his other band, The Takeovers, as well as his legendary band, Guided by Voices.
The scene around the Grog Shop before Boston Spaceships took the stage was like something straight out of High Fidelity, except where Jonh Cusack’s and Jack Black’s characters were obsessed with all pop music, these people were obsessed with one pop musician, Robert Pollard.
You’d overhear conversations like, “What are your top five Guided by Voices songs?” and “Are you from Cleveland? No, how far did you travel to be here tonight?” “How many times have you seen Guided by Voices?” One dude told me twenty times, but he knows a guy who’s seen them 70 times. And you know what? I believe him, and his friend. These people are that devoted to Robert Pollard.
From the moment the chipper looking Pollard took the stage in his decidedly unstylish plaid pants and collared shirt, his devotees were toasting their beers in the air and singing along. It didn’t matter if the song was from Boston Spaceships’ debut album, Brown Submarine (“Psych Threat”) or from a Pollard solo album (“To the Path”), they knew all the words.
Pollard returned the favor by putting on an inspired performance, doing air guitar windmills while his band jammed, and entertaining the crowd with stories from his 25 years spent on the front lines of Rock ‘N’ Roll. While fidgeting with the mic stand, he recounted a story of how the lead singer of the Cleveland punk band, The Pagans, got himself anally impaled with his stand. An event Pollard had no interest in re-enacting.
Joining Pollard on stage were Chris Slusarenko and John Moen from the Boston Spaceships, as well as guitarist Tommy Keene (an occasional Pollard collaborator), bassist Jason Narducy (another occasional Pollard collaborator), three big buckets of iced Miller Lite and a bottle of beam (both frequent Pollard co-conspirators). They shredded through Brown Submarine’s reckless take on early era Who (“Winston’s Atomic Bird”) and ran ragged through, “No One But I” from Pollard’s solo album, Robert Pollard is Off to Business. And when they slowed things down a bit, for the jangly pop of “You Satisfy Me,” “Soggy Beavers,” and “Andy Playboy” it sounded as sweet as the first time the echoing sounds of “I am a Scientist” hit the stereo speakers.
Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five songs into the set, the band, and the crowd showed no signs of slowing down. Older fans were pogoing like they were 18, and Pollard was drinking like he was 18. In a bit of crowd banter, Pollard quoted scientific studies that proved 5-6 cups of coffee a day were good for year health, and even better for your health would be drinking 18-20 beers a day. You may think he was joking about those 18-20 beers, but the three big orange buckets of Miller Lite don’t lie, and neither did the countless empties which cluttered the stage and multiplied atop the amps.
All the beam and Miller Lite may have made Pollard’s eyes a little heavier, his dancing unsteady, and his song titles more nebulous, but he refused to stop the rock, returning to the stage for encore after encore. Although he mumbled his way through Cheap Trick’s “Goodnight,” there was no stopping those power chords. Then, when he led the Spaceships through two Guided by Voices classics (“Cut-Out Witch” and “Tractor Rape Chain”) the crowd just about lost their sh*t. No one wanted to admit the Spaceships would quit after 40 songs. They chanted “G-B-V!” and “Boston Spaceships!” and kept their places at the front of the stage. It wasn’t until someone came out to disassemble the drum kit that reality set in, and the devotees came to the sad fact that the fifty-one year old Pollard, wouldn’t play fifty-one songs tonight. Ah, but if you’re going to call it quits after forty, there’s no better song to end it with than Bee Thousand’s “Tractor Rape Chain.” What a great f*cking song. More beers were toasted, the devotees screamed every word, and when the music ended, there were smiles all around.
Boston Spaceships Set List 09.26.08 – Grog Shop Cleveland
My setlist has a few holes, and it may have actually been 41 or 42 songs, but I’m sure those GBV devotees out there can help me fill in the blanks.
1. Psych Threat (Boston Spaceships)
2. Zero Fix (Boston Spaceships)
3. To the Path (Robert Pollard)
5. Winston’s Atomic Bird (Boston Spaceships)
6. You Satisfy Me (Boston Spaceships)
8. Headache Revolution (Robert Pollard)
9. No One But I (Robert Pollard)
10. Still in Rome (Boston Spaceships)
11. The Original Heart (Robert Pollard)
12. This one was by The Takeovers, but I can’t read my notes. Sh*t happens after a few drinks.
13. Rat Trap (Boston Spaceships)
14. From the next Robert Pollard solo album
16. Ate it Twice (Boston Spaceships)
17. From the next Boston Spaceships album
18. Little Green Onion Man (The Takeovers)
19. Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off (Robert Pollard)
20. Andy Playboy (Boston Spaceships)
21. North 11 AM (Boston Spaceships)
22. Soggy Beavers (Boston Spaceships)
23. From the next Boston Spaceships album
24. Ate it Twice (Boston Spaceships)
25. Blue Gill (Guided by Voices)
26. Ready to Pop (Boston Spaceships)
27. Hound Has the Advantage (Robert Pollard)
28. Weatherman and Skin Goddess (Robert Pollard)
29. Western Centipede (Robert Pollard)
30. Go For the Exit (Boston Spaceships)
31. Wealth and Hell Being (Robert Pollard)
32. The Blondes (Robert Pollard)
33. Sensational Gravity Boy (Robert Pollard)
35. I Have a Heavy Crown (from the next BS album)
36. Gratification to Concrete (Robert Pollard)
37. Game of Pricks (Guided by Voices)
38. Goodnight (Cheap Trick cover)
39. Cut-Out Witch (Guided By Voices)
40. Tractor Rape Chain (Guided by Voices)