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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:09 am

Indie rock legends invade Bloomington

Castle Theatre to host New Pornographers and Guided by Voices on consecutive nights

The New Pornographers perform at The Castle Theatre located at 209 E. Washington St. in Bloomington on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m.
PHOTO BY JENNY JIMENEZ

 

Next week, two of the music world’s longest-standing, most influential and consistently popular indie rock bands will be performing at the Castle Theatre in Bloomington on consecutive nights: Canadian art-pop super-group The New Pornographers on Wednesday, Aug.16, and Dayton, Ohio-based low-fi veterans Guided by Voices on Thursday, Aug. 17.

Built to Spill. The Mountain Goats.  Jenny Lewis. For music fans of a certain age, these names might mean something. Or they might not. Scions of the ’90s/’00s indie-rock boom, artists like these and dozens more continue to release vital recordings and tour to their loyal if aging fan-bases. As an ever-more compartmentalized, oversaturated and undercompensated music business moves further away from sales of physical media, with downloads now becoming passé in favor of an all-streaming business model, bands such as these rely more and more on revenue from live shows in order to survive. However, viable mid-size venues can be hard to find and fans who live outside of major metropolitan areas often have to travel long distances to see their favorites perform.

Enter Bloomington’s Castle Theatre, a beautifully restored space with an excellent sound system and sight-lines, which has hosted recent shows by all of the above-named artists along with more major indie names, metal bands and various other mid-size touring acts.

Next week’s shows are particularly auspicious. The New Pornographers, who last played the Castle in July of 2015, are currently touring for their Whiteout Conditions album. Each song on the new record is stuffed to bursting with infectious hooks, soaring unisex harmonies and irresistible rhythms, an intoxicating combination on record and even more so when done live. Lead singer and writer A.C. Newman is a master of full-tilt pop abstraction and in the company of his revolving door coterie of co-Pornographers – sometimes including legendary chanteuse Neko Case and eminent Canuck songwriter Dan “Destroyer” Bejar (Whiteout Conditions is the first NP release not to feature Bejar, so it’s unlikely he’ll be at Wednesday’s show) – can always be counted on to pile on the sonic confections, leaving audiences in a state of musical sugar shock (picture a hip ABBA, a stripped-down ELO or a sped-up Fleetwood Mac and you’re getting close). Over the years, I have seen this band at least five times in as many configurations and never left a show disappointed.

In 1994, Robert Pollard was a 37-year-old fourth grade teacher in the Dayton, Ohio, public school system when his band’s seventh self-produced album became an unlikely worldwide sensation. In the near-quarter century since then, Pollard has maintained an obsessively prolific stream of releases, putting out more than 90 more albums under various monikers. Most of his best-known work has been under the name Guided by Voices, the most recent iteration of which will be playing songs from How Do You Spell Heaven, its second album of new material so far in 2017 (and 25th overall).  The music of Guided by Voices is catchy, odd and timeless, sometimes sounding uncannily like the unearthed demos of an unknown 1960s psychedelic band, sometimes reaching operatic heights of rock-opera style suites and fist-pumping anthems, but always quirky and unmistakable. With so much material to choose from, GBV concerts often resemble marathons, usually exceeding two hours and invariably featuring the sight of Pollard, now nearly 60, slamming beers nonstop and executing acrobatic kicks like a man a third his age, singing his life’s work with tunefulness and effortless charisma.

With shows on the horizon from indie stalwarts Conor Oberst (9/17) and Portugal, the Man (10/2), the Castle Theatre continues to position itself as one of the best regional options for mid-size alternative concerts, giving discerning area music fans a chance to see some favorite acts without having to make their way to Chicago or St. Louis.  

The Castle Theatre is located at 209 E. Washington St. in Bloomington. The New Pornographers perform Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. with special guest Ought; Guided by Voices perform Thursday, Aug. 17, at 8 p.m. For tickets and additional information visit http://www.thecastletheatre.com

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.

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