Built to Spill returned to their home-away-from-home last week, playing a two-night stand at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. We caught the band on the second night as they were finishing up their tour in support of their most recent album, the excellent Untethered Moon. If the band felt weary after months on the road, they certainly did not show it on Thursday night, as the group played an energetic set that covered just about every part of their vast catalog, including a couple of surprise additions as well.
The show got off to a raucous start with Keep It Like A Secret opener “The Plan”, with the crowd immediately going nuts as soon as the opening chords were strummed. We were lucky enough to have a great view of the full band, and were able to enjoy seeing guitarist Jim Roth’s dissonant slide-work create the song’s memorable solo. From then on the band mixed in new material with old classics, and the crowd greeted the recent stuff with nearly the same approval as their favorites; singles “Living Zoo” and “Never Be The Same” featured some of the group’s catchiest hooks, and “So” has the spirit of many of the band’s brilliant guitar work-outs, so they were natural fits into the group’s standard set.
The band were able to seamlessly shift between different moods and tempos, such as when the group followed the mid-tempo ballad “Liar” with the raging “Pat”. It would not be a Built to Spill show without a couple of covers thrown into the mix, and the group obliged by including “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain” (a song that I keep forgetting is a cover because of its many appearances in a BTS show, from a side project that Doug Martsch did with Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening called The Halo Benders) and part of “Orion”, which took a few minutes for me to place since they started it off at about the halfway point. The band finished off the night with a rousing encore, first with the epic “Kicked It In The Sun” before rounding it out with early year favorites “Big Dipper” and “Stab”.
Opener Honey Bucket did a good enough job keeping the early crowd entertained with their take on garage rock, and Genders was a solid second act. Their first song reminded me of post-punk revival in the vein of Interpol, especially with the way their bassist was making full use of the neck for counter-melodies, but the highlight for most of the crowd was their faithful cover of Mazzy Star’s classic “Fade Into You” (even if the guitarist decided that the song’s memorable leads could be mimicked without the use of a slide). It was an intriguing counterbalance to the headlining act, but it is hard to overshadow Built to Spill when they are on top of their game. The sound mix overall was excellent, with all three guitar parts balanced perfectly, and the group actually integrated a fairly effective light show into their set. Overall, it was hard to find a better way to spend twenty dollars on a weeknight.