Martsch treated fans to an intimate club show.
The roadmap for a successful touring band is one that lacks creativity. A band toils for years in shitty bar basements, gets buzzy and then plays smaller, but well-respected clubs. Things usually top out at theaters or outdoor summer shows. The lucky few go on to arenas, sometimes stadiums. Yet, barring a fall from commercial grace, bands never seem to go back. I’ve always wondered why the guys from U2 never simply say, “Fuck it, let’s play a club show/tour like we’re a real band and not some giant corporation for a change.”
There are some refreshing exceptions, luckily, and not just legacy acts hoping to cash in on past glories. Built to Spill, cited as one of the most important bands of the ‘90s, still records vital albums and could easily fill a large theater. However, Doug Martsch eschews the progression mentioned above. So it was a surprising treat for fans when Built to Spill announced two shows at Portland’s Mississippi Studios, a venue with a capacity of around 300. Tickets sold out in about a minute.
Martsch, flanked by drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini, is perhaps one of the most unassuming frontmen in music. Without pretensions, stage antics or even much banter, Martsch and his crew played for 100 minutes, touching on nearly every album in Built to Spill’s discography over a setlist of 16 songs. Even as the crowd shouted platitudes and howled out the names of their favorite Built to Spill songs, the unflappable Martsch dutifully moved from one song to another without letting the adoration faze him.
That setlist, though, was a gift to any longtime Built to Spill fan, brimming with killer songs such as “Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)” from Perfect from Now On, “Else” from Keep it Like a Secret, “Hindsight” from There is No Enemy and “Liar” from You in Reverse. It’s easy to get lost in a Built to Spill song on record, but in the live arena, Martsch sometimes pushes his solos to new and surprising places.
The drawback to the evening is the set wasn’t longer. For every amazing song that did get aired out that evening (“You Were Right”) there were three others we regretted missing (“Big Dipper!” “Car!”). Martsch played “I Would Hurt a Fly” the night before, but we didn’t hear it at our performance, much to the chagrin of my friend who flew in from Philadelphia. But what we did get was quite amazing.
Martsch closed the evening with “Randy Described Eternity,” quietly thanking the audience before the song. There has always been a D.I.Y. aesthetic to Built to Spill, a commendable quality never leached away during two decades on a major label (though Built to Spill is now operating on its own). It’s this ethic that makes the band’s legacy so important, the reason why Martsch can still treat fans to an intimate club show for $30, even when he could be playing bigger stages for more cash.