It's been seven (very) long years since Built To Spill, the indie-rock band that put Boise, Idaho, on the map for many music fans, toured Australia, a country where they have had a strong and loyal fan base spanning several decades.Tonight (24 October) was the first of four consecutive Melbourne shows the band will play this week as part of The Eighty-Six festival, and each night has been sold out or with very limited tickets remaining for some time.
Naturally, being the first night, this one sold out fast and there was almost a full room for support act Summer Flake.
Though, it'd be remiss to assume many were not also there to see the locally based trio fronted by the very talented Steph Crase. The band's 2023 album 'One Less Thing' should be in everyone's top records of the year list come 31 December.
The last time this reviewer caught Crase playing the Northcote Social Club was on a Monday night where she played to a fairly sparse band room; tonight, there wasn't much room to even move to get to a good spot to see everyone onstage.
While the set obviously was (and felt) too short due to the nature of the support slot, the band's loud, fuzzy, happy-sad songs should have won over a few new fans – particularly ending with the 2023 album's title track, a stunning, brooding shoegaze number that builds deliciously to an all-out aural assault.
There was a sense of buzzy anticipation in the crowd, with fans knowing that Built To Spill brainchild Doug Martsch likes to mix up set lists from show to show, beyond the most recent album being showcased.
In this case, it was centred around 2022's 'When The Wind Forgets Your Name', the ninth under the Built To Spill name (even though it's essentially Martsch's ninth album, as the only member of any permanence).
The set was light on new tunes from this album, the first Built To Spill record on legendary Sub Pop after leaving Warner Bros – which the band called home for a massive 22 years.
Side note: Their home at a major label encouraged likeminded artist Isaac Brock to take his Modest Mouse to Sony in 2000, and soon after came their biggest hit 'Float On'. I once told Martsch this and he said it wasn't or couldn't really be true; hilariously, it was, as Brock had mentioned it in an interview I'd done with him not two months earlier.
I digress. So yes, Martsch and new line-up – Melanie Radford on bass and Teresa Esguerra on drums – kicked off with newer tune 'Spiderweb', but then delved right into older tunes.
There was the glorious anthem 'You Were Right' from 1999's 'Keep It Like A Secret', which really solidified their popularity in Australia, then 'Trimmed and Burning' from 2001's excellent 'Ancient Melodies Of The Future', and 'Distopian Dream Girl', an unusual and unexpected pick from 1994's classic 'There's Nothing Wrong With Love'.
Not surprisingly, 'Keep It...' tunes featured heavily, and rightfully so; 'Center Of The Universe' was great, the beautiful 'Else' was better, and encore closer 'Carry The Zero' even topped that. (I wholeheartedly regret having this as my Nokia phone ringtone at the time; more than 20 years on I can still hear where the ringtone sample was cut.)
Myself, and many other Built To Spill fans, however, couldn't help but hold out for any taste of 1997's 'Perfect From Now On', what many believe to be the band's magnum opus.
Naturally, it was released in a year in which some career-defining records came out for acts, such as Radiohead's 'OK Computer', Elliott Smith's 'Either/Or', Yo La Tengo's 'I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One' and Mogwai's 'Mogwai Young Team'.
However, most songs on the record are more than six minutes long, which quickly jams up a set list that isn't an 'album' show (which they have done before, at 2008's All Tomorrow's Parties curated by My Bloody Valentine in upstate New York, which was absolutely worth the GFC-amplified credit card debt this reviewer copped making that silly trek). So, tonight we got the wonderful 'Kicked It In The Sun' and 'I Would Hurt A Fly'.
Martsch is a man of few words onstage, and he is surprisingly quietly spoken when not in full swing at the mic. This set, too, felt over too soon, and anyone yelling out songs during tuning moments were swiftly ignored, discouraging anyone else hoping for a request fest.
Playing four shows in a row makes a lot of sense, though; in some ways, it's like four acts of one performance, allowing Martsch to indulge fans in some more obscure album tracks while covering the core favourites.
As such, I'd put money on quite a few people in the audience having tickets for all four shows. While quite an investment, given ticket prices these days, it's absolutely one that will deliver a good return.
Read our recent interview with Martsch.