They took the stage at Avalon last night as inconspicuously as a band on their first tour, as if playing in front of seven people at a local bar. The fact that most of them these days look like roadies certanily enhanced the effect. So they went about their business: twiddled knobs, adjusted tunings, tested drums, tapped on microphones and readied the laptop. Yes, laptops are almost standard fare for bands these days!
Then, with no warning and mere minutes after the previous band had ended their set, the lights went down and the “roadies” simply started playing, launching headlong into the eight minute thrill ride of “Goin’ Against Your Mind” the first track from their terrific new album. It took all of five seconds before you knew this wasn’t a mere collection of ragtag roadies. This was Built To Spill, looking like they’d just spent the last six months in the Ozarks, without razors. The show opener was sprawling and classic Built to Spill: the initial two minutes an instrumental crescendo which built up to frontman Doug Martsch’s slightly epileptic, nasally delivered vocals and the rest of the band banging and noodling. From there the band rode the loud-soft wave as strongly and convincingly as they ever have through many chestnuts like “Untrustable” and “Mess With Time.” This would be the second time in two weeks that I witnessed a three-guitar aural assault in this venue.
The now heavily-bearded Martsch worked his usual guitar magic all night and although his admiration for the artwork projected on the wall behind him sometimes felt like it was distracting him, it didn’t interfere with how good the band sounded. Like Crazy Horse on crystal-meth, it all built up to two real high points:
a) the tight, crisp and astounding “Conventional Wisdom,” which clearly showed that Built to Spill’s new material ranks right up there with their ’90s output (listen here). The song itself boasts instantly memorable high-pitched guitar work, but the way they stretched it out at the end was spectacular – not too long where it meandered aimlessly and not short enough where it left you wanting more. In my mind, it was the show’s absolute peak.
b) Three words: Carry the Zero.
As with any show, there were imperfections as well. I have been playing their new record a hell of a lot lately and last night’s set list only contained three of the new songs. Of course, with a back-catalog like thiers, it totally dulled the disappointment, but I was longing to hear “Liar,” “Gone” and especially “Wherever You Go.”
The last song was the oft-played “Randy Described Eternity” which was terrific as usual, but then they tacked on – I kid you not – an extra 30 minutes to the song, filled with drenching, overwhelming and eventually boring and needless drifting by the band – it emptied out nearly half of the packed room and as each minute passed, it was like picking a scab, over and over again. Case in point: during the last fifteen minutes of the song, the drums were actually being disassembled and packed away for their next show, to the point where . Yet it still went on…..and on. A small price to pay for a dominant performance.