Show review: Built to Spill at Paradise Rock Club – 6/22
Built to Spill have seemingly picked up a reputation in recent years for being the indie world’s closest analog to a jam band. The group’s three guitarist lineup and tendency to extend its songs to double or triple their original length during live shows doesn’t do much to dispel the comparison. But to reduce Built to Spill to a stagnant, noodling stereotype would be outright irresponsible. Frontman Doug Martsch is too good a songwriter for that, and when the band does let loose on a song, the results rarely feel self-indulgent. Friday night’s show saw Built to Spill in a relaxed state of mind, free from the pressures of touring a new record and playing a crowd-pleasing setlist with a restrained cool that highlighted the many strengths across their discography.
Junebug Spade, of Oklahoma City, would open with the first set of the evening. The band’s no-frills, mildly sloppy rock was charming if not revelatory. Garage-y, guitar driven songs with a slight Southern twang were delivered with a proper combination of enthusiasm (a long-haired, head-banging bassist) and apathy (a singer/guitarist with a major Stephen Malkmus vibe). Second openers, New York City band Caveman, took a more spacey and cerebral approach to their set. Guitars soaked in reverb and delay blended with a haze of keyboard tones, punctuated with bass and two members on percussion for most songs. The result was unexpectedly striking: a refined, danceable set reminiscent of latter-day Walkmen if they listened to more Slowdive records.
Built to Spill would then take the stage with as little fanfare as they could muster at eleven o’clock. Martsch and company (guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson, bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf) aren’t exactly showmen in any traditional sense. Set-opener “Traces,” a mid-tempo track with a vaguely ominous central riff from 2006’s You In Reverse, was an unexpected but not unwelcome lead-off. It would be one of few ‘deep cuts’ in a set which mostly stuck to fan favorites and time-tested live staples. The band’s most recent record, There Is No Enemy, is almost three years old now, effectively freeing them from the responsibility of touring to support it. The resultant set had something of a ‘greatest hits’ feel to it, drawing most heavily from much-adored 90s LPs There’s Nothing Wrong With Love and Keep It Like A Secret. One of the many impressive factors of Built to Spill’s live show is the band’s ability to sequence songs from rather disparate records back to back without something feeling off. The ramshackle charm of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love is a distance removed from the more polished, guitar-heavy sound of their late 90s-2000s output, but Martsch’s songwriting was no less accomplished and his lyrics no less thought-provoking back then. The full-er band arrangements of “In The Morning,” “Big Dipper” and others sounded fantastic.
True extended jams were largely kept to a minimum throughout the night, but the band took plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the collective powers of its three guitarists. Martsch may get much of the credit for inventive leads and solos, but the contributions of Roth and Netson are not to be ignored. A show closing “Broken Chairs” which easily clipped the twenty minute mark was the night’s one real excursion, allowing the trio to take us far beyond the fade-out at 8:41 of the album version. The live incarnation slows to a quiet, atmospheric and almost eerie section around the three-quarters mark before gearing up for a noisy closing workout. Built to Spill deftly navigate the trap of sounding tedious extending a single song to such lengths. The guys have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to keep things interesting and justify such a performance.
It’s a testament to the staying power of Built to Spill that they easily sold out the Paradise without having released a record or done much of anything else since 2009. The room was filled with overjoyed diehard fans who knew every word by heart. Martsch was practically drowned out during the shout-along choruses of “You Were Wrong.” With no new material tested and nothing much on the horizon, this run of shows (including dates and festival appearances around the US for the rest of the summer) seems to be Built to Spill playing shows simply for the sake of playing them. The band is plenty at ease with these songs and isn’t taking a whole lot of risks, but why should they? A group as consistently great as Built to Spill deserves a run of comfortable shows once in a while. You didn’t hear any of us complaining.
Built to Spill: