By Blake Nelson
After very little advertising, and a great deal of ambiguity, Built to Spill made its way back to Reno. The concert was held at the Cargo Concert Hall with accompanying band Sister Crayon this past Friday.
The publicity of the event was so scarce that only through scouring some hashtags could I deduce what band Built to Spill was touring with. But for such an unpublicized concert, the turnout was solid; all the local hipsters came out to revisit the early 2000s that Built to Spill encapsulates. Even though a majority of the crowd was mostly in their 30s, and a number of younger fans had made their way to Cargo as well.
After the venue was nearly full with young professionals and college students, the Sacramento band Sister Crayon took the stage. Playing a mixture of electronic and hip-hop music with grand vocals, the band seemed to be an odd match with Built to Spill’s indie rock sound.
Sister Crayon’s music was mostly recorded tracks with a live drum and some sparse synthesizers. Beyond the strong vocal style of lead singer Terra Lopez, the band didn’t offer anything sonically that was ear-catching or fresh. Some of the instrumentals were spacious and some were overly simplistic, with Lopez’s vocals having to carry the entire song.
Although the crowd either didn’t know, or wasn’t necessarily into Sister Crayon’s performance, the band still gave an impassioned show and in doing so garnered a few fans in the process. Lopez spoke to the audience multiple times, speaking how the audience’s approval greatly helped the band emote while playing.
Once Sister Crayon left the stage the venue filled out for the headliner. After a short intermission Built to Spill strolled casually onto the stage, looking disheveled but happy to be able to play. Playing with a slimmer lineup — three members instead of the standard five — the band members took their respective instruments and prepared to play.
Before we get into the concert, here is some background on Built to Spill — the band originally formed in 1992 with current members Doug Martsch and Brett Netson, and departed member Ralf Youtz. Next year will mark the 25th year of the band’s existence and in that span it has released eight albums, multiple EPs and influenced much of indie rock with its riff-heavy music and emotionally charged lyrics.
So what this all means that if you are into indie rock at all, then Built to Spill is most likely your favorite indie band’s favorite band. This hypothesis has some factual footing too; Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie has cited Built to Spill as one of Death Cab for Cutie’s biggest influences, as well as Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.
With that information one can understand why seeing Built to Spill live is a rite of passage into modern indie music as we know it today. So you could imagine the excitement in Cargo as Built to Spill came out on stage.
The band opened with one of its newer tracks, to the delight of the crowd, running through the song with ease. Even with the stripped-down size of the band, it was able to do all the songs justice, moving from song to song with ease and never giving away that they were lacking bandmates.
Some dancing was beginning to take shape throughout the crowd by the time the band had finished its third song. As the fourth song, “The Plan,” one of the band’s biggest hits, began the crowd erupted into cheering and more dancing. The driving drums and the bass had even some of the oldest audience members moving.
It was around the end of “The Plan,” however, that the audience got a chance to see what 24 years of being a band will do to you. For about three minutes, Martsch soloed, which was pretty cool; he showed his technical guitar skills and looked like he was having a great time. But then it was about every other song that Martsch would solo; admittedly, it was tiring at times. On top of that, the band didn’t play very many hits that the crowd was expecting, even some of the most die-hard fans at the concert seemed a little upset.
The band still played wonderfully, and the audience was still happy, but the solos were too pervasive throughout the set. As Built to Spill was leaving the stage, the crowd was already calling for an encore. The band eventually obliged, and they were glad to come back out. Playing a few more songs, the crowd was pleased with the newer songs that the band played, but Martsch played a nearly 5-minute solo session that seemed to be endless at the time. It seemed to wear on the crowd, as some nervous glances to friends were given, and some snide comments were made.
Looking back however, I can’t help but give it to the band, playing just to play, and having fun while doing it. I for one couldn’t ask for much more. If you can play with as much joy as the band did 24 years later, I think it’s OK to make some of the audience members uncomfortable with your fun.
Leaving the concert I wasn’t completely satisfied, but upon mature reflection I really enjoyed it. I can understand why people’s opinion of the concert was split, but if you didn’t like this concert, don’t worry; the band promised to return soon. So if you missed them last time, maybe they’ll come back and deliver a completely different set.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.