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Guided by Voices, Titus Andronicus and Surfer Blood @ The Troc for the Magnet’s 21st Birthday.

May 23, 2014

gbv01Text by Joe Gallagher. Images by Jessica Flynn.

I just turned 24 and I feel like I can start flexing my age and use “back in my day” sincerely.

So, back in my day, at Magnet’s 10th Birthday Party, opening for Guided By Voices were My Morning Jacket and the Shins. John Wurster from Superchunk did Philly Boy Roy and made fun of Spin magazine between sets. Back in my day, cigarette smoking was allowed in the Trocadero. Back in my day, there was no “classic lineup” of GBV, merely whatever ringers Bob Pollard rounded up for the next record and tour cycle. Back in my day, I was the youngest person at a GBV show by at least a decade, brought there by my dad who bought Under The Bushes, Under The Stars after an enthusiastic review of an early 00s performance in The Inquirer.

We should be proud that our city is home to Magnet and Red Flag Media and that independent publishing seems to be able to at least get by here, in print and on the web. In the time since the last Magnet birthday party I attended, they suspended print operations for a few years, before returning to print with Red Flag and it would seem thriving. Last night, Magnet celebrated 21 years with a party at the Troc with GBV, Titus Andronicus and Surfer Blood.

Philadelphia also played a part in incubating Guided By Voices. They played, like, their second show outside Ohio ever at the Khyber in 1993. Incredibly, it now lives on YouTube. Pollard acknowledged this when GBV took the stage last night – after several false starts and apparently a mere five minutes after he and bassist Greg Demos arrived by van from Dayton.

“I’ve partied in this town!” Pollard said.

Later, he shared that before the Khyber show, they had been treated to 12 hours of drinking at a backyard barbeque and that tonight, we’d have to do with a mere two.

For all the chaos and bacchanalia of a GBV show – Pollard’s high-kicks, guitarist Mitch Mitchell’s illegal but constant Olympian-caliber cigarette smoking, the sprawling setlist written on an 11×17” “scroll,” a mid-set pull from a bottle of Jose Cuervo – there is a clear air of professionalism about the band that I guess is impossible to shake after 30 years.

I get worried about why this band continues to do this well into their fifties, and with this particular lineup’s years of estrangement. I cast all those doubts off though last night, because it was immediately clear they all love this so much. The set was fearlessly heavy on new material, which is impossible to keep up with as they’ve released something like six albums in the last four years. And I thought it was a testament to their vitality that they didn’t always slot nicely next to the old, greatest hits-style material. It indicates they remain an intensely creative band. On record, GBV seems to be a more collaborative endeavor than ever before, and that was reflected on stage. Mitch Mitchell did a bunch of back-up vocals which I never knew him to do in the 90s, and Bob deferred to Tobin Sprout at least six times throughout the night to showcase his typically gentler songs.  The most political the night got was when Pollard prefaced the title track of their latest album Cool Planet by saying, “Hey, our cool planet’s gettin’ hot! Isn’t it Mitch? Our cool planet’s gettin’ pretty hot!” That is that perfect kind of drunk profundity Pollard’s synonymous with.

I similarly have a history with Titus Andronicus, who kicked off proceedings to a small but enthusiastic crowd. It was something like my 14th time seeing them, but the first time in quite a while. They still played with every bit of conviction they did six years ago to 12 or so people at The Barbary. Singer/guitar player Patrick Stickles has been frank about his uneven mental health in interviews lately and he seemed more energetic than I’d ever known him to be, leading me to wonder if TA were like what we’d get if Randle Patrick McMurphy escaped the ward, discovered existentialism and fronted a punk band. The penultimate song of the set was the shoegazing epic “No Future Pt. 2: Day After No Future” immediately followed by “Pt. 3” closing their set having achieved an audible singalong of “you’ll always be a loser and that’s ok.”

Surfer Blood, who in my mind are sort of on the opposite end of the indie rock opening act circuit, followed. Where Titus bravely confronted the indifference of the crowd and emptiness of the hall by flailing around and discussing what to play next, indicating some amount of spontaneity, Surfer Blood went through the motions in front of a packed Trocadero, playing the same set I saw them do late last summer opening for Foals. They seem like fine enough guys, but unfortunately the time for their hybridization of Pixies and Vampire Weekend seemed to be up when singer John Paul Pitts acquired an arrest record.

However, their first hit “Swim To Reach The End” is still an absolute jam which they seem to recognize by slotting it at the end of their set.

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