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Six records in two years. The classic lineup rolls on like an out of control freight train, only on roller coaster rails with insane grip. We all knew Robert Pollard is prolific, but he’s transferred his manic creative rate over to songwriter foil Tobin Sprout as well. Back in the early 90s, when the triad of Pollard, Sprout and Mitch Mitchell teamed up for the unbeatable run of Propeller through Tonics and Twisted Chasers, they required twice the time. And that’s not even counting the additional eight (yes, that’s not a typo) records that Pollard’s also delivered in that time, a queen bee cranking out egg after egg in the guise of solo records, Circus Devils, or Teenage Guitar. The lyrics of 1992’s “Weedking” are true: Pollard can keep up the violent pace. Incredible.
After a smattering of festival appearances and short treks following their triumphant victory lap of 2010, the band would finally get back to Boston. The enthusiastic crowd that filled the floor and balconies was a pleasant mix of grizzled veterans and young people who were likely snacking on dry cheerios safely in a minivan’s child seat when Under The Bushes, Under The Stars came out. “60’s the new 35,” said Pollard, adding “You can only rock when you’re old, but if you’re young, you can fake it and earn some practice time.” They were up for the challenge.
Unlike the 2010 tour, this one took advantage of the new material, with a special emphasis on this year’s Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet. Why not? Inst-anthems like “Authoritarian Zoo” shot out of the gates like New Pornographers on the kind of steroids Barry Bonds had coursing through his veins. “Vote For Me Dummy” lacked the presence of ex-White House press secretary/über fan Jay Carney introducing it, but Pollard struck a peace sign-waving Nixon pose nonetheless. “Pan Swimmer” is the sort of tight, concise pop song that’s shed the lo-fi fuckery of the old days, all killer no filler. “Sixteen changes in a minute twelve seconds, kids. All your favorite pop song moments crammed into one song.” I can’t recall if Pollard was referring to that particular song during that choice quote (hey, beers and a swig from Pollard’s communal tequila bottle will fuzz out certain details) but it certainly fits.
The early surfacing of classics like “Buzzards and Dreadful Crows,” “Wished I Was A Giant,” “Gold Star For Robot Boy” and especially “Fair Touching” really cranked it up a notch, and the second half of the set was heavier into the material from phase 1 of the lineup. Sprout got a healthy chunk of the set list, with at least a half dozen songs featuring his tunes. Due to Pollard’s flood of tunes, it’s hard to say that Sprout was the Lennon or McCartney in this team – Harrison would be a better parallel, and quality-wise that analogy would hold water. “You’re Not An Airplane,” “Awful Bliss,” “All American Boy”? All starting lineup material. I really wished that the doom-laden “The Bone Church” made the cut for tonight’s set list… imagine if Sprout was locked in a sensory deprivation tank with only the first six Black Sabbath records as stimuli, and this is what would pop out.
One note – after the drama of Kevin Fennell’s ill-fated auction and subsequent departure from the band, Kevin March returned to the fold and really locked in well; bass player Greg Demos was an absolute force especially compared to Tobin Sprout’s staid presence to his right, but the striped pants must have some psychic channel to Phil Lynott and Bruce Foxton. Yowza! His bass was hanging over the stage and into the crowd on almost every song.
As a fan of the band, I admit that it’s hard to keep up with the fire hose flow of new material. I love pizza, but wouldn’t want to eat it for every meal. But Pollard’s got some sort of secret dough recipe and a massive spectrum of toppings at his fingers, and damned if a pizza every day / all day diet might not be a bad idea. Mr. Pollard, thank you for such delicious pie.
Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts pulled opening duty honors tonight, and the night before at Irving Plaza. With their spades dug deep into ’60s soil, they’d occasionally turn over chunks of Love dusted with bits of Jesus and Mary Chain bedrock. Not too bad a sound, but the singer could stand to develop some variation.
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