Last Night: Built To Spill At House Of Blues

Built to Spill House of Blues October 21, 2010

While Thursday's chatty House of Blues crowd mingled and awaited Built to Spill's 10 p.m. set time, most hardly noticed that the band was already strolling the stage, casually setting up their own gear. Such nonchalance may contradict a band that has been comfortably signed to a major label for the past 13 years (Warner Bros./ATP Recordings), but the humble Boise natives' lackadaisical vibe became a recurring theme throughout the evening.

In an era of once-defunct '90s bands now reuniting - so many it seems to be the unofficial musical trend of 2010 - it's common to witness bands who have parted ways reassembling, rearranging, reconfiguring. Built to Spill is not one of those bands.

Sure, front man Doug Martsch took a musical sojourn of sorts in the early '00s, releasing a solo effort, Now You Know; but in their near-20-year career, the band has consistently released albums and steadily toured to support them. Their most recent album, There Is No Enemy, was released late last year, marking Built to Spill's seventh full-length record since 1993.

And speaking of the '90s, the boys from Boise proved they weren't afraid to revisit the decade that was, promptly kicking the set off with "Three Years Ago Today," from 1993's Ultimate Alternative Wavers. And just like that, we were reeled in by Martsch's distinctive sing-song croon and atmospheric guitar tones.

Songs spanned the band's wide repertoire, as "The Plan," "Joyride" and the doleful "Things Fall Apart" easily enough kept the crowd's attention - and fortunately so, as BTS wasn't exactly playing up to their crowd; in fact, they seemed borderline apathetic.

But any lack of onstage enthusiasm was assuaged by absolutely flawless delivery. The band was indisputably "on" throughout the entire set. Any "imperfections" would only add to their charm; when Martsch's voice falters, it's endearing.

By the time the moody "Things Fall Apart" was played (mid-set, at least), we wondered if the restrained Martsch would ever address the audience. But suddenly, as if mirroring the song's lyrics - "into the darkness from out of the blue" - he spoke: A simple, Texas-friendly greeting. "Hey, how's it going, y'all?"

Following suit for their slapdash stage persona, Built to Spill plowed through another steady string of songs, including "Sidewalk" and the tender "The Wait," before closing out with 1999's "Carry the Zero," a by-the-book, near-flawless rock song, made more perfect by Martsch's wailing guitar solo.

The man of few words brusquely thanked the crowd, as he led his bandmates offstage, only to shortly return solo, an acoustic guitar in hand. The crowd, suddenly rowdy, must have downed their final beers in anticipation for the encore, as its roar was quickly approaching rambunctious territory. Martsch noticed this shift, shaking his head toward the crowd in mock disapproval.

After flashing a coy smile to his eager crowd, he began the first song of his intimate encore, "Dream" - appropriately, a track from his solo record. Fans cheered as the first few chords were strummed; but the remainder of the crowd had surpassed rambunctious territory, and was just plain loud.

Irritated, Martsch stopped mid-song, and pleaded with his audience, inviting those who preferred to chat to either "be quiet" or retire to the bar. "This is hard for everyone," he continued, before jumping back into "Dream," whose candid lyrics seemed to contradict such discourteous behavior.

As if tweaking the encore to better suit their loquacious crowd, the remainder of the band rejoined Martsch onstage, electric guitars in tow, for the (louder) final encore. "Big Dipper" and "I Would Hurt a Fly" received favorable responses from the crowd, which now seemed to thin out, leaving BTS's truest fans to sing along with their indie heroes.

But it was the evening's intrepid closer, "Goin' Against Your Mind," that provoked the biggest crowd reaction, as Martsch, backed by a unwavering bass line, closed out the set with yet another spacey guitar solo. The song journeyed through a series of build-ups and breakdowns, and was ultimately capped off by Martsch's proverbial one-liner: "Thanks."

Ultimately, Built to Spill upheld their title of nonchalance - in all ways but one: They ardently wove equal parts soulful folk, whimsical pop melodies and epic jams into one show, but with the underlying theme of undisputed, no-nonsense rock and roll.

There's nothing nonchalant about that.

Personal Bias: With songs these good, who needs stage presence?

The Crowd: Was chock-full of burly bearded men, a la the Built to Spill convention.

Overheard In the Crowd: We think Martsch already answered this one for us.

Random Notebook Dump: Is it just us, or does Doug Martsch resemble an adorable marionette-meets-bobblehead when he sings?

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