Talk about your holy Mecca of all things clad in flannel -- the planet aligning moment of Built to Spill playing a gig at Portland's intimate Doug Fir Lounge was like the musical equivalent of Uter from the Simpsons getting stranded on an island composed solely of chocolate and strudel. Sure the room was packed tight enough to send any self-respecting fire marshal into full-on cardiac arrest, but there wasn't any place on the planet anyone in that building would have rather been. Doug Martsch is quite possibly rock's greatest unsung hero, but in the alternate universe known as the Pacific Northwest indie-rock underground, he is the beacon of all things sacred and untouched. I would go so far as to say that a majority of the crowd this night would take a bullet for the man -- myself included.
First things first: the subterranean confines of the Doug Fir are a miracle of sonic perfection. In one of the best sounding rooms of all time, Built to Spill's three guitar eruption was dialed in like an audiophile's wet dream. And as soon as the ominous attack of "The First Song" kicked the show off, every head in the room was fully consumed by the sound. In recent interviews, Martsch has commented that he's trying to bring a lot of forgotten songs back into the mix. So I don't know if it was because of that or because he was playing to an audience that literally knew his entire catalog, but of the 14 songs played, only three were released after 1999. This was a show of epically deep cuts, and the crowd was basking in throwback dreamland. In less welcoming venues, songs like "Stab" and "Big Dipper" would have been met with casual acceptance -- here they were greeted like Elvis had just walked out on stage.
Built to Spill has gone through a lot of lineup changes over the years, almost all of them intentional and amicable, but the latest turn was the only one that fans have vocalized some hesitation about. Bassist Brett Nelson had become a seemingly fundamental member of the band, having been around since the second album in '94. Thus, his departure portended a potential drop in the balls department of the group. The new guy, Jason Albertini, has been a friend of the band for a while and was obviously quite familiar with the music. However, he and the new drummer did play with some slight hesitation, but I suppose that is to be expected. In fact, the only point in the evening where it really seemed to matter was when Martsch appeared to suggest a song that drummer Stephen Gere didn't seem to know. But honestly, once the sweat starts dripping onto Doug's guitar, there's only one guy anybody is really looking at on stage.
The show closed with a lengthy ride on "Done" off of 2009's There is No Enemy, and a massive take on the forever-classic "Carry the Zero." A four-song encore pushed the set near the 2-hour mark, and contained a take on The Smiths' legendary "How Soon is Now" that made it seem like it was written for this band. The final cut of the evening was the only song I was unfamiliar with, and rumor is that perhaps it's a new one. As we enter the 4th year between albums, one can only hope there's something fresh on the way.
Regardless, there are still plenty of incredibly passionate fans that will be happy hearing anything old or new. Most requested song of the night? "Play whatever you want!"
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