Built to Spill at First Avenue, 07/22/10

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Photos by Steve Cohen
Built to Spill
July 22, 2010
First Avenue


Having seen Built to Spill about a dozen times since the mid-'90s, it's become quite easy for me to spot when they are truly on during a performance, and when they are drifting aimlessly amidst a rather uninspired set.

Thursday night at First Avenue, despite the band trotting out a few rarely played numbers like "Three Years Ago Today" from their excellent debut album, Ultimate Alternate Wavers, the five-piece band seemed quite listless throughout their far-too-brief 75-minute set, not finding a spark until the last two songs of their encore. Granted, frontman Doug Martsch is such a guitar virtuoso that he often makes things look effortless up on stage, but there is a difference between making it look easy and looking like you don't care.

Last night, the band looked and sounded like they weren't too interested in adding to the litany of fantastic shows they've put on in Minneapolis, and put on a routine set that failed to fully ignite the appreciative audience.

The performance got off to quite a lovely start, with a gorgeous version of "Else" that eased the band and the crowd into the show in a poignant, moving manner. I absolutely love this song, and while it didn't quite have the long, protracted coda that I've seen them do at other shows, it still was a promising and stirring start to the night. The relatively new track "Planting Seeds" was next, and it seemed the band were a bit preoccupied with the sound levels throughout the song, and it really didn't resonate too strongly with me.

The classic "In The Morning" also was a bit tepid, and when they soon followed it with the aforementioned "Three Years Ago Today," it became clear that the band was digging pretty deep in their back catalog at the start of their set. And, as a longtime fan of Built to Spill, I definitely appreciate the gesture; the problem was the versions performed on this night just didn't catch fire at all, and came off as languid and plodding. The band seemed to be taking an especially long time between songs throughout the set as well, killing any bits of momentum they built up during the previous song.

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Photos by Steve Cohen
"Time Trap" provided a much needed spark, and was one of the set's few highlights for me. But instead of building on that momentum, they followed it with a sleepy version of "Nowhere Lullabye," which is a sweet, tender song, but again seemed lethargic. "One Thing" from the split EP with Caustic Resin was a great surprise, but it ended up being a truncated version, and found the rest of the band lost underneath Martsch's emphatic vocals. And, after a rambling version of "Wherever You Go," the band waved goodnight after a mere 50 minutes. That would be fine if they were planning on playing two sets of that length, but unfortunately that wasn't the case on Thursday night. After a brief break, the band came back out and kicked the encore off with a loose version of "Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss," which I don't ever really need to hear them play live again. It's such a light, insubstantial number when compared to their other material, and it was extremely frustrating that they completely neglected playing anything from their masterpiece, Perfect From Now On, in favor of these lesser songs.

The last two songs, however, really found the band catching fire, with both "The Plan," and an extended, energetic rendition of "Conventional Wisdom" closing out the show on a complete high. But you have to wonder -- where was this intensity and spirit throughout the rest of their set? I'm used to seeing them start with this type of energy and keep it up for over two hours. Alas, after finally igniting, Built to Spill were done after just 75 minutes. There were wonderful moments to be found throughout the set, but they were too few and far between to make this show memorable in any way, especially for a band of their stature and with that incredible back catalog at their disposal.

Doug and the boys just seemed to be going through the motions during most of their performance, and for a band that has set the bar pretty high with a plethora of phenomenal concerts in Minneapolis in the past, that just isn't good enough, especially when you know how great the band has the potential to be.

Critic's Bias: BTS fanboy for sure.
The Crowd: A nice mix of fans new and old.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I think I'm going to start growing a beard."
Random Notebook Dump: No matter the energy level or songs performed, this was by far the shortest headlining set I've ever seen Built to Spill play, and the early doors (6 p.m.) didn't help matters much.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Steve Cohen.

Setlist:

Else
Planting Seeds
In The Morning
Life's A Dream
Three Years Ago Today
Hindsight
Time Trap
Nowhere Lullaby
One Thing
Wherever You Go

Encore:
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
The Plan
Conventional Wisdom


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