Sporting a short-sleeve blue button down and disheveled gray hair, 58-year-old indie rock hero Robert Pollard knew the clock was ticking.
“We’re gonna make it quick, we got 50 minutes,” he told the Sound on Sound faithful Friday evening, before leading his four-piece band into a whirlwind tour of Guided By Voices’ more than 20 records. It’s all air-drum ready, junkies-on-corners Midwest dive rock for spirited pragmatists.
Longtime collaborator Doug Gillard, who rejoined the band this summer after an 11-year break, played solo-fueling sideman.
“I Am a Tree” was warmly received and rowdy. “Cut Out Witch” inspired the most dancing in place. Defunct Pollard side project Boston Spaceships enjoyed a brief revival with a “Tabby and Lucy” cover. The band landed on a block of tracks from 1994’s breakthrough “Bee Thousand.”
They began just past 6:45pm, and the Austin attendees who worked a full day were still making the drive to the Sherwood Forest. Here at the Dragon’s Lair stage, it meant a crowd of silver fox die-hards and curious entrants enthralled by the pace and Pollard’s still-has-it high kicks. (Last month, this iteration of GBV performed a 50-song set in Virginia.)
“I know this is a little bit outside of Austin, but close enough,” he said.
Let’s call it a soft open. Friday at the Sound on Sound festival’s main stage, the proximity, weather, and business hours made it a light kickoff crowd. But hey relative to the cold and drizzly maiden Fun Fun Fun Fest at Waterloo Park 10 years ago, this debut was wired and lively. The big stage that greets entrants, nestled amid tobacco sponsors and a wine bar, does feature a big and awesome purple dragon. It hugs the onstage castle facade, and is among the coolest aspects of this Renaissance-themed gathering.
Here Omaha, Nebraska scene survivors Cursive took seemingly forever to tune their backline. (They only began five or so minutes late, but man were they persnickety.) Set opener “Big Bang” melted together trumpet and cello to adorn what was admirable, mature rock from a six-piece band that stuck around after the great emo invasion of 2003. Set-closing “Sierra,” from ’03, still rips.
Forty-two-year-old frontman Tim Kasher, here in a brown button-down shirt and professorially faded dad jeans, played inspired and dense rock. Though cringe-worthy emo lyrics like 2001’s hyper-self-aware “Sink To the Beat,” weren’t as dignified. (That one features angsty musings on the scene, and the phrase “lyrically defecate.”)
“It’s nice to come out to events like this,” Kasher said. “We’ve been running into a lot of old friends.”
Indeed a sizable cluster of 30-something punk veterans were here to sing along to weaving, pensive tracks like “The Recluse” and even 2009’s “From the Hips.”
For all the attention to detail, the youthful noise of 2000’s “The Lament of Pretty Baby” landed tightly punctuated and with enough moving pieces to charm the stiffest of snarky cigarette smokers.
“Thank you for standing there,” deadpanned Shannon and the Clams guitarist Cody Blanchard an hour earlier. His band lightened spirits with doo-wop retro choruses and surf rock panache.
This after New Paltz, New York’s Diet Cig cranked infectious, pop-tinged punk that provided a nuanced, smart jolt. The two-piece outfit turned out its go-to batch of pogo bangers like “Sleep Talk” and set-closing “Harvard,” while also teasing strong newly penned songs. Singer and guitarist Alex Luciano writes delightfully bitter, admittedly petty odes to self-involved, Ivy-league sweater-donning boyfriends. Onstage she recalled the time she stole a garden gnome during South by Southwest, and also dedicated a song to the dude on a bike whom she says hit her downtown Friday night.
Locals Boyfrnz played the Dragon’s Lair welcome wagon early Friday as converted, enthused scenesters washed in. The pysch-rockers pummeled at the heavens with the unrelenting pace of a stubborn dog. Rock the forest.