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Guided by Voices vs. Soul Asylum in the suburbs of Minneapolis

Guided by Voices at Hilde Performance Center, Plymouth, Minnesota
Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard addressing the masses at Hilde Performance Center, Plymouth, Minnesota, Aug 19 2017. Shawn Conner photo.

Guided by Voices and Soul Asylum at the Hilde Performance Center, Plymouth, Minnesota, Aug. 19 2017

Revew: Guided by Voices at Hilde Performance Center

In the mid-1980s, probably around 1986 or -7, myself and two friends scrunched ourselves into a Honda hatchback and drove to Chicago from Winnipeg. There was no real reason for the 1400-kilometre journey, outside of a young man’s thirst for adventure and a Prairie boy’s sense of excitement about going on a road trip to a big American city.

Thirty years later, two of the three—Dennis and I—repeated the first leg of that trip, to Minneapolis. This time, though, we had a purpose: to see Guided by Voices.

The show was scheduled for Aug. 20, at the Hilde Performance Center in Plymouth, a suburb half-an-hour northwest of Minneapolis. To make matters a little more serendipitous, GBV (as it’s known affectionately by fans) was sharing a bill with hometown heroes Soul Asylum. At the suggestion of Kelly, the third member of our original trio, we had gone to see the Minneapolis band (at 7th Street Entry, the rock club that was part of the then-Prince-owned First Avenue) on that long-ago trip.

That show blew my 21-year-old mind; it was the best rock performance I’d seen up to that point. I hadn’t seen a lot, but I had seen The Who (via an organized bus tour from Winnipeg to Minneapolis), Iggy Pop, and the Ramones (the latter two headlined shows during my teenage years at the Manitoba Playhouse in Winnipeg). That mid-eighties Soul Asylum show was enough to make me, if not a lifelong fan, than an occasional defender. If, say, someone referred to the band as rubbish (usually based on the band’s 1992 Grammy Award-winning, soft-rock radio hit “Runaway Train”), I might plaintively ask, “Yes, but have you heard (their 1990 album) And the Horse They Rode in On?”

Guided by Voices’s Robert Pollard: ‘Who’ll be watching the eclipse?’

Guided by Voices at Hilde Performance Center
Tonight! Soul Asylum and Guided by Voices. A once-in-a-lifetime event in Plymouth, Minnesota.

The night before the Plymouth show, we met up with Jenny, a Phoenix-based GBV superfan (tattoos, knows all the words) who had flown in from Ohio earlier that day. She’d been to see their Cincinnati show a couple of nights previous. We were both anxious about the upcoming set—because of the venue, which was supposed to shut down at 10:15 p.m., and the bill. Not only Soul Asylum but also another long-running (formed in 1975) Minneapolis act, the Suicide Commandos, were also on the bill. This made it unlikely that our beloved GBV would be able to play their standard two-and-a-half hour, 50-plus song set.

The setlist we longed for (photo of Cincinnati GBV setlist Aug 16 2017.

Our worst fears were born out the next day. The Hilde’s stage is an outdoor concert shell, or amphitheatre. As Dennis noted, it was the type of place where you would see Shakespeare in the Park. So this was an odd venue to host a bill featuring a once-ferocious punk band (Soul Asylum) and another group, Guided by Voices, who were at their best playing at night, in a packed downtown (and easily accessible compared to the Hilde) indie-rock club full of a few hundred eager fans. With its lush lawns, folding chairs and VIP sections, the Hilde is more suited to a folk-rock act like Jack Johnson or the Lumineers.

It was still bright daylight when we arrived in time to see the last half of the Suicide Commandos. How were they? I have no idea; I was too focussed on the fact that every one of their songs meant 2-3 fewer Guided by Voices gems we would get to hear.

It was still daylight when GBV came on. Frontman Robert Pollard threw in a few high-kicks in a set that leaned heavily towards songs off the latest in the 30-plus-year-old band’s long line of releases, How Do You Spell Heaven, with fan favourites sprinkled in. I got the impression that, rather than strategizing the setlist for maximum impact, the band had simply decided to do the first half of their regular set, and squeeze in a couple of encore songs (“I Am a Scientist,” “Glad Girls”) at the end. The 100 or so GBV fans who had trekked from Minneapolis into Plymouth for the show nodded along happily to oddball tracks like “It’s Food” (off last year’s double album August by Cake) while the rest of the crowd—season ticket-holders, curious locals who recalled “Runaway Train”—must have wondered, “What the hell?”

Ladies and gentlement, Soul Asylum

To hurry things along, Pollard kept his usual stage banter to a minimum. He did ask if anyone would be watching the eclipse in two days. As GBV tradition would have it, he swigged from a bottle of tequila for the first half of the set, then passed it to a fan who had sung along passionately to a song (“Gold Star for Robot Boy”). The sun was just beginning to set when the band unceremoniously walked off the Hilde stage.

Soul Asylum started out strong (“Spinnin'”, from 1990’s And the Horse They Rode In On, still rocks, especially with Michael Bland drumming). But the band lost us when frontman (and last remaining original member) Dave Pirner exchanged his electric guitar for an acoustic and turned to mellower numbers (which were actually more in tune with the setting).

I will say this for the band—Pirner has the same fire that we saw in him in that packed Minneapolis rock club 30 years later. And, as obvious as its lyrics may be, I thought that the set-ending “Stand Up and Be Strong“—from the 2006 Soul Asylum album Silver Lining—packed a huge punch, especially in light of recent events in Charlottesville (though Pirner didn’t mention this or any other political issue).

It was a long way to go for a very strange concert. For most of the diehard GBV fans in attendance, I would say that the night was a little disappointing in what amounted to a teaser of a set. For those (like Dennis) seeing them for the first time, though, it was probably just right.

Guided by Voices at Hilde Performance Center
The long view of Hilde Performance Centre, Plymouth, Minnesota. Guided by Voices performing Aug. 19 2017. Shawn Conner photo.
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