Built to Spill @ Paradise Rock Club – 11.8.13

by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published November 18th 2013

photos by Ben Stas

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When Built to Spill sold out the Paradise last summer, I noted in a review that the band seemed to be in a sort of ‘victory lap’ mode. They hadn’t released a record since 2009’s There Is No Enemy, and they played a set that felt like a casual stroll through their formidable back catalog. On this November night, at a once again sold-out Paradise, the feel of Built to Spill’s set was quite similar. They can still pack a room without a record to promote or an ostensible reason to tour without sounding like a lifeless nostalgia act.

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Ironically, it was second opener The Warm Hair that sounded most firmly rooted in lifeless nostalgia. I arrived in time to catch only the last few songs of the band’s set, but between the bare-chested frontman, the 70s radio rock platitude lyrics and the sloppy presentation, the vibe was squarely in the “unrehearsed bar band” territory. Internet speculation has proposed the theory that The Warm Hair are Built to Spill leader Doug Martsch’s idea of a joke, but who knows what to believe in the wake of such madness. Canadians Slam Dunk took the stage once The Warm Hair mercifully wrapped things up, and delivered a far more agreeable set of energetic indie rock that served as a fitting intro for the night’s headliners.

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“Energetic” is perhaps not the ideal word to describe Built to Spill, but the band does have a certain zen momentum even when they’re mostly standing still. Opening with You In Reverse’s “Traces,” Martsch and his longtime guitar foils Brett Netson and Jim Roth, along with a recently updated rhythm section of drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini, spanned the band’s two-decade career and then some. A few new songs were interspersed among selections from Keep It Like A Secret, There Is No Enemy and You In Reverse, and a towering performance of Perfect From Now On’s “Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)” was a highlight of the night. Martsch’s signature guitar heroics were in top shape throughout the show, and though the 20-minute epics the band occasionally breaks out were absent on this night, songs like “Conventional Wisdom” still made room for extended triple-guitar explorations.

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The most memorable part of the show, however, came during a covers-heavy encore that saw the band stepping slightly outside of their comfort zone. They sounded convincingly punk on Dinosaur Jr.’s “Sludgefeast,” brought the requisite cowbell to Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and pulled off that distinctive Smiths tone on “How Soon Is Now?” As they rounded things out with an instrumental Metallica number (who saw that coming?) and arguably their most beloved original tune, “Car,” one essentially couldn’t ask for a better conclusion.

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Metallica forays aside, this night was pure, vintage Built to Spill. Martsch directed the proceedings without saying much, communing more directly with his guitar than any of the human beings in the room. Even with the new rhythm section they picked up earlier this year, they are very much the same band they’ve always been. But when they’re still selling out shows, delivering solid sets and tossing in some small surprises, there’s little reason to take issue with that.

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