There was a time -- the first few years that Doug Martsch extended his live band beyond a trio -- when I felt the extra musicians were getting in the way, but now that he's played steadily with this group -- drummer Scott Plouf, bassist Brett Nelson, and guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth -- Built to Spill is a music machine. A year+ after the release of its sixth studio album, "You in Reverse," the band offered few new wrinkles to the music but left the crowd wanting for nothing, except more songs.
As this tour is sort of a "You in Reverse" victory lap, the band didn't bother to lean on the more popular, bigger songs from the record. Absent were rock jams "Goin' Against Your Mind" and "Conventional Wisdom," which had been so selectively placed in the sets last summer. But they did open with maybe the best song from the album, "Liar." And the set touched on all six records, quickly dispatching with the first album with "Nowhere Nothin' F---up." Martsch's reworking of The Velvet Underground classic "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" was reworked again here, updating it for the current BTS lineup and sound -- the first wrinkle in the set -- but the staccato reading of the "Nowhere, nothin', f---up" chorus remained untouched.
On the live staple "Time Trap," the band outro'd dub-style, the first hint of the rumored Built to Spill reggae single -- not because the band is becoming a reggae band but because the band likes reggae music -- that was to follow this show two days later. They came back with the first real rock moment, "Mess with Time," from "You in Reverse." But as it does on the record, that song turns to a dub ending. The next -- and maybe best -- wrinkle was "Car." A fan favorite and live standard, this time Martsch opted to essentially play the song alone, with some help from Nelson on bass. This sparse presentation of the song was wise for both the change of pace and the loyalty to the original sentiment and sound of the recording on the band's second album, 1994's "There's Nothing Wrong with Love."
Martsch has always been astute at picking cover songs, and the cover for this set was impeccable. Brian Eno's "Third Uncle" is perfect for this band, as it is a rock jam in step with BTS's style. Light on lyrics but heavy on guitar, this was probably the best moment of the set, particularly the brief guitar battle between old friends Martsch and Netson at the end. Some consider such obscure cover selections to be ostentatious, but any good music snob recognizes their importance: the effort to introduce people to good music they may not be familiar with. It's what any good music snob does his or herself. Any band -- almost every band -- covers "Cortez the Killer." Few dabble in Eno. As Martsch would want, I also recommend that you track down the original (on "Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy").
One of the biggest curveballs followed next. The band dug into "There's Nothing Wrong with Love" again for "The Source," a song I don't think I've ever heard them play in a dozen or so shows. While the band relied on many live staples, they kept it interesting with selections like this.
Late in the set, the band played "You Were Right," on which Martsch cleverly strings together memorable phrases from the history of classic rock for his own purposes. But somewhat ironically, he dropped the first quote. This was met by the loudest cheers of the show. He'd dropped other lines earlier in the set, but those seemed intentional, catering to the sing-along crowd. A smirk and a shrug confessed that he'd forgotten or confused that line. And he did it again later in the song. Another song from the same album, "Keep It Like a Secret" -- the band's high-water mark -- closed the set. The crowd had been calling for it, and it was -- and is -- worth the clamor. "Carry the Zero" soared once again, even as Martsch dropped the title the first time through -- this time probably for that sing-along effect.
What was missing from the show were those extended jams with which this lineup has become so proficient. Not until the encore, "Randy Described Eternity," did the group stretch out in such fashion. First playing the song true, then rocking it out for a while, then slowly devolving to a close. While too much of that indie rock jamming can become tiresome, this set was craving it from the beginning. That 12- or 13-minute "Randy" provided the fix, but was it enough? That's probably why this set seemed liked the shortest Built to Spill headline set I've ever witnessed, and at the same time, the most expensive ($25).
And unfortunately, we weren't treated to a reggae single.
Nowhere Nothin' F---up
In the Morning
Kicked It in the Sun
Mess with Time
Third Uncle (Brian Eno cover)
Wherever You Go
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
You Were Right
Carry the Zero Randy Described Eternity