Prior to witnessing their remarkable live energy a couple times last year, I figured Dayton's Guided by Voices were just another bunch of garage-bound lo-fi enthusiasts: 1993's Vampire on Titus (Scat), their first widely available recording, sounds like shit, and finding the band's compelling songcraft amid mounds of tape hiss, dropouts, indecipherable vocals, and often murky guitar-bass bleeding requires no shortage of patience. Headed by vocalist Robert Pollard, who writes most of the tunes, the prolific combo has tended to record at home on four-track devices, although the brand-new Alien Lanes (Matador) dares to dabble with eight-tracks, and on an album due out this fall the band employs a real studio. Since their start in 1986 they've released no less than nine albums, not including a bunch of singles and compilations, but typically pressed only 300 to 500 copies of each. While a recent five-CD box, simply entitled Box (Scat), recovers this nearly lost history, last year's terrific Bee Thousand and the new album find the band at a new peak. Pollard and regular guitarist Tobin Sprout are pop naturals, crafting a seemingly endless succession of killer hooks and riffs partially appropriated from the British invasion, but informed by all sorts of subsequent influences: power pop, folk rock, psychedelia. The lyrics tend to be no-account, clever wordplay ("I can't terrorize / I see terror in your eyes") or simply meaningless ("Disarm the sexless / The new drunk drivers / Have hoisted the flag / We are with you in your anger"). But the catchiness of Pollard's indelible melodies and the refreshing kick in the ass of the band's Who-like live fervor make up for his verbal drivel. Calculatedly coy indie rock popster Mary Lou Lord opens Wednesday, while smart noise-pop Minneapolitans Polara warm up Thursday's show. Wednesday and Thursday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.