The singer downed a dozen beers and nearly collapsed in a stupor. The guitarist implored the crowd for a joint and forgot to strum. Melodies were botched, songs were abandoned in mid-verse. By the end, the band seemed baffled about what chords to play and when to stop playing them.

It was a thing of sheer, chaotic beauty.

Good news, people: Guided by Voices is back! We're not talking about the band that showed up here a few months ago to open for Cheap Trick and played a tight, professional set from a tight, professional new album, "Do the Collapse." Sure, the lineup of musicians was essentially the same, but the group's spirit on Friday night at the 9:30 club was altogether different--looser, happier and less preoccupied by the finer points of concert-giving, like, oh, remembering all the words.

Longtime fans of this Dayton, Ohio-based quintet have reason to rejoice. For more than a dozen years and through hundreds of songs, Guided by Voices has churned out some of pop music's snazziest melodies, relying on a recipe that mixes the Who, a dash of the Beatles, a smidgen of early Genesis and a sprig of punk--with the whole concoction marinated in Budweiser and boy's-club wit. The combination turned GBV into alternative rock heroes and generated a full-blown cult of personality around Robert Pollard, a former grade-school teacher and the lead singer, songwriter and only continuous member of the band.

Lately, though, Pollard has abandoned his lo-fi, let's-record-it-in-the-basement approach to musicmaking and has taken a shot at legitimate rock stardom, releasing glossy albums with name-brand producers. The problem with this platinum strategy--and here's hoping it eventually works, by the way--is that it turned Pollard into a "serious" performer, robbing GBV shows of their spontaneous feel and the glorious sense that at any moment the wheels on this band were about to pop off and the whole vehicle was going to swerve off into the weeds.

Well, GBV nearly wiped out a few times on Friday and the fans appreciated it. Reveling again in the music and clearly fond of his latest lineup of musicians, Pollard high-kicked and drank his way through a two-hour show. Tunes from "Do the Collapse," one of the band's weaker offerings, were featured, but Pollard rummaged through his back catalogue and yanked out some jewels, including "Big School" and "A Salty Salute" as well as old faves like "Shocker in Gloomtown" and "Echos Myron."

"You yell, we play. We'll play for as long as you yell," he told the throng. By the end, the band was giddily tearing through songs, then dropping them after a few bars, like some kind of attention deficit orchestra. A woman in the crowd briefly commandeered the microphone. Pollard seemed perilously close to a bliss- and booze-induced blackout. If the 9:30 club let them, the band would be there now.

CAPTION: Singer Robert Pollard may be forgetting the songs, but he's pleasing his old fans.