Tobin Sprout may be best known for his time as a member of fabled Daytona, OH lo-fi rockers Guided By Voices, but he is also a prolific solo artist, having released several albums of his own over the course of the last decade. When the “classic” Guided By Voices lineup reunited in 2010 he put his solo career on hold, touring extensively and recording six albums with the band over a four-year period. After the band split again in 2014 (with band leader Robert Pollard eventually forming an entirely new lineup), many fans may have wondered what Sprout would do next. The answer finally came this year, as he released his sixth solo album, The Universe & Me, and embarked on his first real solo tour in over a decade.
That tour made its Washington, DC stop at DC9 on Tuesday evening. The night started with a set by “anarcho-symbolist” garage rockers DTCV (pronounced “detective”), the project of French singer and guitarist Guylaine Vivarat and another former Guided By Voices member, James Greer. The duo, which released their fourth album Confusion Moderne last year, played a rocking set which got the night off to a strong start.
Sprout opened his set with the first song off of the new album, “Future Boy Today/Man of Tomorrow,” but other than that one song along with “A Walk Across the Human Bridge” and “Cowboy Curtains” a little later on, the set was surprisingly devoid of material from the new release. Instead, Sprout and his band dedicated much of the set to songs that he had written as a member of Guided By Voices, including such classics as “Dodging Invisible Rays,” “It’s Like Soul Man,” “Atom Eyes,” and “Jupiter Spin.” Sprout looked back to his 2010 solo album The Bluebirds of Happiness Tried to Land on My Shoulder with “Wedding Song” and “She’s On Mercury,” and played a number of other fan favorites and requests including “The Crawling Backward Man,” “The Last Man Well Known to Kingpin,” and “Scissors.”
Musically, Sprout’s solo material tends to fall in a more power pop direction than the lo-fi indie rock of his time with Guided By Voices, but the songs from the different eras fit together seamlessly with the arrangements that Sprout had worked up with his band. The show lacked in the (barely) controlled chaos that Guided By Voices shows are known for, but made up for it in musicianship. That’s not to say that the chaos was entirely gone, however – after completing the 25-song official setlist (along with a few additions during the set), Sprout kept playing, sometimes by himself and sometimes with the band backing him, for a dozen additional songs, including “14 Cheerleader Coldfront,” “Spiderfighter,” and “The Corners Are Glowing,” seeming to declare each the “last” song of the night right before launching into another.
For far too long, a solo performance by Sprout has been a rare but welcome occurrence. Hopefully this new burst of activity signifies that we’ll be seeing much more of him in the future.