TOBIN SPROUT with Elf Power and Zumm Zumm at the Horseshoe, April 19. Attendance: 110. Tickets: $10.50, $12 at the door. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Tobin Sprout is one of music's great anomalies. As lead guitarist for Guided by Voices, he and Robert Pollard had the indie world buzzing with the landmark release of Bee Thousand in 94. By the time Alien Lanes dropped in 95 it seemed GBV were going to be the next big thing. Then Sprout quit the band to raise a family and follow his other artistic passion, painting. His fans needn't worry, however, since his basement studio allows for inspiration of the musical kind to be easily committed to tape and released without disruption to the family unit. Lucky for us he's found a good babysitter and hit the road for the first time (other than a couple of gigs) since leaving GBV in 1997.
As showtime approached, the cavernous Horseshoe held people with equal amounts of enthusiasm and curiosity. Though able to write beautifully crafted, pop-inflected gems, Sprout has also put out material that borders on the unlistenable. That, coupled with his long hiatus from touring, made it anyone's guess as to what would happen. Fortunately, his material was all the former, and Tobin worked the adoring crowd into a head-bobbing smile fest.
It was like a greatest-hits compilation played live, with Sprout moving effortlessly between every era of his long career. Songs from his solo albums went shoulder-to-shoulder with GBV tunes from Vampire On Titus and the seminal Bee Thousand.
Other songs from Sprout projects Eyesinweasel and Airport 5 rounded out the set. Odd to see the aging Sprout playing with a backing band who were in grade school during the glory days of the mid-90s, but it only reinforced the enduring appeal his songs have for a new generation.
The wide-eyed foursome had every note down cold, allowing Tobin to strum and sing without a care. He was free to roam but never ventured more than a few inches from the mike stand. Between-song banter was kept to a minimum, letting the music do the talking, which was just fine for everyone in attendance.
As great as the show was, Tobin was almost upstaged by openers Elf Power , whose lo-fi power-pop tunes bordered on the sublime, complete with a Wire cover and a brilliant version of their own Everlasting Scream. If the songs from their latest album, Walking With The Beggar Boys, sound as good on disc as they did live, they may just be the best band from Athens since REM.