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By Kevin Amorim.
Newsday July 11, 1997
Copyright 1997 Newsday, Inc.

Robert Pollard could be the boy with the crew cut and Coke-bottle glasses in "Bulldog Skin," his band's new video. But instead of winning over the cute girl, he's capturing his American dream: living the rock-star life.

Over the past several years, Pollard, the lead voice behind Guided By Voices,has played Lollapalooza, beaten the Beastie Boys (with his brother Jim) in a pickup basketball game and flown to Seattle to play at R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck's birthday party.

Not bad for a guy who spent more than a decade teaching fourth-graders during the day and - when he had the money - putting out self-produced records only close friends and family cared about.

GBV's story is the stuff of rock and roll mythology. A revolving-door lineup of friends laboring on lo-fidelity melodies in lonesome Dayton, Ohio, GBV was finally on its ascent to the indie-music mountaintop, when, last September, rumors of a breakup seeped out of the Buckeye State.

Gossip became fact: Pollard jettisoned his most recent and well-known lineup for the backup band of Cleveland rockers Cobra Verde, whom he'd met on GBV's first cross-country jaunt. "GBV is kind of like a one-parent family - not to take away from the contributions of the other members, but it's always been my thing," he says.

The singer-songwriter with Tom Berenger's good looks and Roger Daltrey's microphone-twirling, scissor-kicking stage moves has augmented the band at least 20 times since its 1983 inception. He brings his new blood to a headlining Central Park SummerStage performance tomorrow. Opening the free 3 p.m. concert will be post-riot grrrl group Sleater-Kinney, whose acclaimedthird long-player, "Dig Me Out" (Kill Rock Stars), is packed with feminine rock and roll swagger.

It's a good match for GBV, whose 10th LP, "Mag Earwhig!" (Matador), struts the sound of a band reborn. In a departure from the group's early lo-fi albums - recorded pell-mell in borrowed basements and garages on four and eight-track equipment and layered with muddy vocals, background noise and tape hiss - eight of the 21 songs on "Mag Earwhig!" were recorded loud and clear at Cobra Verde bassist Don Depew's 16-track studio.

This new "big" studio sound is helped along with the dual-guitar bite of Cobra Verde's Doug Gillard and John Petkovic, which wraps around Pollard's English-accented haikus.

"Mag Earwhig!" as a whole rocks with much more zeal than anything heard from the Anglopop-obsessed Pollard. Songs such as "Bulldog Skin" and the Gillard-penned "I Am a Tree," a birds-and-the-bees extrapolation; and "Not Behind The Fighter Jet," a catchy pop pleasure, could be arena anthems if this were the '70s. Think Badfinger with an attitude.

"I'm spoiled with these guys," Pollard says. "I feel like Lou Reed playing with the guys from Blondie." Indeed, at 39, Pollard is one of the elders of the scene, and, to his surprise, earning more than he did teaching in the Dayton Public Schools.

"What kind of statement is that on our society?" Pollard says. "An indie rocker makes more than a school teacher."