Built to Spill at First Avenue, 9/19/12

Built to Spill at First Avenue, 9/19/12
Photo By Michael Nelson

Built to Spill
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 19, 2012

With no new record to promote and no ulterior motive or musical agenda, Idaho indie stalwarts Built to Spill rolled through First Avenue intent on pleasing their dedicated longtime fans who showed up in droves to pack the club on a Wednesday night. Frontman Doug Martsch and his faithful crew did just that during a raucous and riveting nearly two-hour set that featured plenty of spirited material from throughout the Boise-based band's two decade career.

See Also:
Q&A: Built to Spill's Doug Martsch
Built to Spill at First Avenue, 07/22/10

The quintet even got things started ten minutes before the announced set times, as they clearly were ready to get rolling and didn't want to keep the large crowd waiting any longer. The set opened with a lively run through of "Traces" which found the band immediately settling into a guitar-driven groove that would last all night. "In The Morning" continued the strong start, but it wasn't until a particularly vibrant version of "The Plan" before the set truly snapped to life, led by Martsch's deft guitar work and plaintive vocals.

It was touching to see that after all these years, a stirring song like "Reasons" still means the world to Doug, so much so that he sang the entire track with his eyes closed, lost in the raw emotions of the number. But rather than linger too long in the sentimental side of his back catalog, Martsch gave the set another jolt with a fiery take on "Virginia Reel Around The Fountain," which had a fierce edge to it due to the three guitar attack of Doug, Brett Netson, and Jim Roth, who layered the track and the entire set with their intricate, spacious riffs. The track also inspired cloudy bursts from the smoke machine, which I've never seen at a Built to Spill show, perhaps left over from last night's set from the Psychic Paramount.

Netson did much of the pre-song talking throughout the show, thanking the crowd and saying warm things about the club itself, "It's really nice to be back at First Avenue, it's a nice place. One of the best places ever." The band then tore through a blistering, intense version of "Pat," a song Martsch wrote about the death of his former Treepeople bandmate Pat Brown. They dialed it down a bit in tempo but not in tone on the simmering churn of "Made-Up Dreams," featuring a poignant line that still gets me after all these years: "No one wants to hear what you dreamt about unless you dreamt about them. Don't let that stop you, tell them anyway."

They kept the momentum of the set high by continuing right into "Velvet Waltz," the track that follows "Made-Up Dreams" on the classic Perfect From Now On. The slow-burning "Waltz" built dramatically to an untamed, discordant finish led by Martsch's stellar guitar work, as he guided the band through an expansive exploration of the song's strident core.

Built to Spill at First Avenue, 9/19/12
Photo By Michael Nelson

From there, the band really shifted their focus onto their masterpiece, Keep It Like A Secret, as four songs from that fantastic record would feature prominently in the remainder of the set. A tender, touching version of "Else" kicked it off before the band took a brief sonic detour on "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss." The main set ended with a triumphant, emphatic version of "Carry The Zero" which really found the band stretching the track out once the guitars truly kicked in, as if they didn't want to leave the stage just yet so they kept unleashing another riff to add to the joyous clamor.

After a brief break, the band eventually launched into a cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson And Clover," which featured backing vocals from Helvetia's Jason Albertini and Sister Crayon's Terra Lopez, the two opening bands on the night. It was an exploratory, expansive rendition, and naturally featured plenty of guitars as well as Doug's distorted vocals at the end. It was cool to hear a band that has influenced so much of modern indie music take on a song that obviously impacted them when they were younger.

Martsch's loving ode to his home state, "Twin Falls," soon followed, and led seamlessly into a riotous run through of "Some," with the band really shredding away on the cacophonous conclusion of the number. The band then returned to their Secret material for the final two songs of the night, the first of which was a forceful, spirited take on "You Were Right" that got the crowd moving despite the midweek set hitting the midnight hour.

Doug, who is typically a man of few words between songs, then took a moment to genuinely thank the crowd: "A lot of folks have been here seeing us for 15 years and shit. Thanks for supporting us all these years, we really appreciate it. Any of you see us at the 7th Street Entry back in the day?" And as someone who was lucky enough to have seen them at their early shows in the city, it's been truly gratifying to see the band find and keep their audience here in the Twin Cities. And with shows as scorching as this one, why wouldn't they?

The last song of the night was a 15-minute version of "Broken Chairs," which found the band totally deconstructing the song at the end, reducing it to just fuzz, feedback, and tension before finally bringing the song home amidst a wall of guitar squall. It was a dynamic, discordant way to end the show, and saw the band off to a rousing, if a bit stunned, ovation.

Hopefully Built to Spill have plans to finish up a new album sometime soon so they come back to First Avenue again before too long. But even if they don't have anything new to tour, they proved on Wednesday night that they can still captivate a crowd based purely on the strength of their back catalog and the utter potency of their live shows.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I've been a big Built to Spill fan since the moment I heard There's Nothing Wrong With Love back in '94. And while I have witnessed my share of sleepy Built to Spill shows (especially in recent years), this was most definitely not one of them. The band sounded better than they have in years, and truly seemed emotionally invested in each song in the set.

The Crowd: A much larger turnout than each of the last two BTS shows I've seen at the Ave, which is surprising since they don't have a new record out.

Overheard In The Crowd: "This is how you end a fucking show!"

Random Notebook Dump: It's always a treat to watch Doug Martsch play guitar. He truly cares about every note and tone that he coaxes out of his instrument.



In The Morning

The Plan


Virginia Reel Around The Fountain


Made-Up Dreams

Velvet Waltz


Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss

Carry The Zero

Crimson And Clover (Tommy James and the Shondells)(Encore)

Twin Falls (Encore)

Some (Encore)

You Were Right (Encore)

Broken Chairs (Encore)

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