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Built to Spill: How Soon is Now?

“How the hell did you get these guys to play here?” Such was the frequently repeated inquiry posed at the front door on April 21 and 22 as fans streamed in to see Built to Spill. We’ve hosted a few bands which are accustomed to playing much larger venues, but none approaching the high profile of this one. The indie rockers from Boise, Idaho have been around for over 20 years and earned a passionate following. They had just come from playing the Coachella Music Festival so it was no wonder people were in a state of dismay over the opportunity to see them with just 107 others.

Several factors went into this anomaly: the right connections, timing, our sterling reputation, the crackerjack work of our booking agent and, of course, a little bit of luck. We started with one show on Wednesday which sold out so quickly a second was added. For some of us who were completely unfamiliar with Built to Spill, it was a golden opportunity to find out what the fuss was all about. Considering the high demand in advance, Tuesday’s gig turned out to be a lot more mellow than other sold out shows we’ve had in the past. That suited everyone just fine as there was plenty of room to move around.

The band had just released a new album so it only seemed natural that they would focus on that material. Much to the delight of the old school fans in the house, that was not the case. Instead they turned their sites towards the classics. It was evident from the first song why people love the vocal presence of the band’s founder, Doug Martsch. He pulls you in and makes you care. Starting on a mellow foot, the music had an endearing quality to it. This would quickly give way to a run of heavy rock tunes.

The show, which lasted 90 minutes, maintained a pleasing flow, segueing through a number of sub-styles within the indie rock galaxy. The most memorable part of the night was the last song – “Randy Described Eternity.” Stretching upwards of 15 minutes with a jam that did not want to quit, Built to Spill surprised us newcomers with their psychedelic, improvisational acumen. As if there was any doubt, the seasoned vets in the crowd confirmed that this indeed had been a very special show.

As expected, night two exhibited the band’s looser side. They had taken a sojourn to the Yuba River earlier in the day which set the tone for a more playful approach. This translated into playing cover songs almost exclusively. We’ve had some killer cover bands in the Horse but none that came close to representing such an eclectic catalog. They ran through songs by Devo, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Captain Beefheart, Michael Hurley, Metallica, Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, The Clash, The Smiths, New Order and Neil Young. Like any great band, they made the covers their own. Hearing them was like reading Cliff Notes to summarize what Built to Spill is all about. “How Soon is Now” by The Smiths stood out as a poignant highlight. Metallica’s “Orion” and “Here” by Pavement were particularly awesome. The guitar collaboration of Martsch and Jim Roth was like two painters simultaneously adding brushstrokes to a singular masterpiece.

After the bonanza of covers the band threw in three originals including an old favorite – “Carry the Zero” and a totally different take on “Randy.” The final song was an exultation of pure catharsis as they rocked out Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The interesting thing about the Wednesday show was how divisive it was. Many of us thought it was the cat’s meow. Others, especially hardcore fans, were disappointed that it featured so few originals. All we can say to them is, “You should have come both nights.” The band had a blast and immediately started plotting their return. We can’t wait.

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