Concert Review: Built to Spill

Concert Review: Built to Spill

It’s nice to see a “full album” show where there are still surprises.

Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR

Who knew that vampires liked Built to Spill? Though not everyone who turned up to the Doug Fir Lounge came in costume, a fair number of attendees wore wigs, doused themselves in blood or manicured their facial to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. And though Built to Spill’s music may not scream of the holiday like that of Sisters of Mercy or the Cure, Doug Martsch and his new three-piece backing band provided ample entertainment that evening.

Currently on tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of seminal album Keep It Like a Secret, Martsch elected not to play the album in order but interspersed the songs throughout the 90-minute set, threading in covers and classic Built to Spill tracks in the interim. Kicking off with “Time Trap,” the band rewarded the crowd with a blistering set of songs that didn’t stray too far from the album versions but still sounded vividly alive.

Martsch remained implacable as ever, saying very little to the crowd except for a word of thanks towards the end and asking us how we were doing. Even when one fan shouted that “Else” was his most favorite Built to Spill song and thanked Martsch for playing it, the musician didn’t even look up. It was all business. The fact the night was Halloween didn’t veer the band from a normal night. And that’s not a bad thing as we got a set packed with glorious, classic Built to Spill songs.

The only negative to the evening was Built to Spill didn’t take the stage until 11:15pm, leaving them to finish up at 12:45am. Couple the late start with two openers and you have one hell of an endurance test on your hands. The devoted didn’t care, hanging tough until the end and applauding and asking for more after an extended encore.

Still, it was a triumphant night of music, especially for those who love Keep It Like a Secret. The band played six nights in Portland on this tour. For a band who can fill a big venue, it is super sweet to see them play a place with a capacity of less than 300. And that’s the cool thing about Martsch. It seems that once some bands reach a certain level there is no going back. Imagine seeing someone like the Flaming Lips in a place that hosts 300 people? Martsch cares about the small details like intimacy and the crowd pays it back in appreciation.

It’s nice to see a “full album” show where there are still surprises. For the encore, Martsch played a straightforward cover of “Bennie and the Jets,” replicating Elton John’s piano on the guitar. This wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek take on the song or a comment on its oversaturation. It was an appreciation, and the intimate show felt like a love letter to the fans who stuck by Martsch and Keep It Like a Secret for 20 years, refusal to respond to shouted similar platitudes be damned.

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