With an infinite number of bands just waiting to be discovered and only one brief lifetime to find them, it's not often that I invest time and money into seeing a group again after a lackluster performance, but it's also not often that I find a band as talented, respected and life altering as Built to Spill. The group's music has been woven into my memories over the years, such as New Years Eve 2008 when my brother picked me up at the Portland Jetport with Keep It Like A Secret blasting from his snow consumed stereo. After months abroad filled with nothing but Brit pop, club music and cockney rap, Doug Martsch's musings about mathematical errors on "Carry The Zero" reminded me just how great it felt to be home.
So even though I was somewhat disappointed by last fall's note for note rendition of Perfect From Now On at the Orpheum Theater, the thought of not getting tickets for their three night stay at the Middle East never once crossed my mind. Foolish excuses like staying employed permitted me from the magic on nights one and three, but I was able to get Saturday off to take in a healthy slice of the indie-rock elders at their best--a complete set in and of itself that nevertheless left me lusting for more. Without the set list restrictions and distanced balcony seating of last September's Orpheum gig, the group embraced the freedom of three different sets and the sweaty, dirty intimacy of the Middle East. Stripped of the orchestral support from the Perfect tour, the core members of Built to Spill played raw takes of catalogue spanning material, instantly creating an environment that felt less like a performance and more like an interactive spectacle.
Taking the stage a half hour shy of midnight, the group made sure everyone was still wide awake, barreling through "Get A Life," a rough gem from Built To Spill's first album Ultimate Alternative Wavers. Released 16 years ago, "Life," benefited from the band's growth without sacrificing the reckless energy that defined Built to Spill in the early going. Delving deeper into their catalogue, the band played album hopscotch, touching on material from every studio album along with "One Thing," a cut from a lesser known collaboration with Caustic Resin. Changes in tempo between straightforward hits like "Reasons" and intricately structured compositions like "Untrustable" showcased Built to Spill's unparalleled ability to switch between basic three chord punk rock and improvisational exploration at will. But the biggest improvement at the Cambridge show was how much fun the band seemed to be having. Loyal fans packed together dancing wildly in their own sweltering body heat while a refreshed Martsch and Co. rocked out to their own agenda.
I was so consumed by the music that I didn't even realize how soaked I was in my and other people's sweat until the encore break. The ancient pipes on the ceiling perspired onto the crowd, acting every bit as alive as its rowdy inhabitants. The encore didn't disappoint, reaffirming Built to Spill's ability to consistently churn out intriguing music by spotlighting a track from each of the group's three newest albums. The bouncy "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss" and intense "Conventional Wisdom" were a worthy ending to an amazing night, but I still couldn't peel myself away from the stage ten minutes after the house lights turned on. Part of me hoped that if I didn't leave than it wouldn't end. And for all the normal people who didn't have to work the next day or were smart enough to call in sick, the show didn't stop -- night three's set list looks way higher on my priority list than paying rent in retrospect.