Built to Spill – Live at Variety Playhouse

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With son in tow, I headed off to my favorite concert venue for an evening of rock guitar sonic assault.  Or, ear candy.

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But first, a plug for Fox Bros Bar-B-Q, located a half mile or so from the venue.   We each got the pork plate with 2 sides.  All of it was good, but noteworthy was the “Frito Pie,” which is a bag of Fritos with chili, cheese and onions poured inside.  The only negative was the lack of variety of BBQ sauces.  They have just one; season to taste.  Still, it was very good.


We arrived at Variety just before 8:00... and were seriously baffled by the lack of people.  There may have been 40 or so, mostly seated.  Keep in mind that the venue can hold about 1100.

First up were the Genders, from Portland, OR.  It’s hard to play to a near-empty house, but two guy, two gal band tried.  Not much there for my tastes.

After that was Slam Dunk, a Canadian band that lives on Ventures’ retro style guitar riffs, but with vocals.  They had an active stage presence and appear to enjoy what they do.  It was entertaining to watch the bassist’s amusement with her bandmates.  It’s the kind of band that gives a fun experience but that I’d never pay to see.



One point from Slam Dunk was that the vocals couldn’t be heard when you’re at the front of the stage.  Hmmm.

The stage change out was fairly quick, and Doug Martsch quietly played to himself while the rest of the band was getting their gear set.  This went on quite a while in fact, but he seemed patient... as well as recently tossed from band.  I guess that’s the benefit of being a “real” band – you don’t have to worry about posturing for the press.


The first song, “Stop the Show,” kicked off the evening with a heavy dose of the band’s three guitarists.  Two wove the notes in complementary style, while the third haunted the song with a great slide guitar.   Sonically, all three were separated – I was worried that the concert might be a Wall of Guitar... no worries here.  It promised good things to come...


... except for the vocals, which couldn’t be heard down low.  Someone in the crowd asked for more vocal volume, and Martsch pointed to a spot about 10 spaces back where they should be heard. 

This was the first concert I’d been to where there were no vocals coming from speakers on the stage, instead leaving these to the house speakers at the upper corners – in essence, my first sonic disappointment at this venue.  After a half dozen songs, I retreated to get the full effect, and enjoyed it.


I had hoped from more songs from You in Reverse, but “Liar” was the only selected.  After reviewing set lists from previous shows, the band does mix their lists a fair bit from show to show.

“Else” was another song that I recognized, but otherwise the band played a number of them that I either couldn’t make out or which were unfamiliar.  In general, the longer the songs, the better I liked them.  The guitars were really, really good, notably JIm Roth, at right stage, who essentially was the special effects guy. 


Unusually, in recent experience, was that the encore songs were my favorites.  All four songs were cover versions, including “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Train in Vain,” “Sludgefeast,” and “How Soon is Now,” the last being an absolute powerhouse and great closer.

As concerts go, I wish Martsch had more to say than “Thanks,” and he rarely emotes during the course of the show.  He didn’t hold anything back from the performance, but I suspect he only lets his guard down with people who are close.  In any case, I’d definitely see them again and hope that they would hit more of my favorites.

And to anyone who keeps yelling “Freebird!” at shows... seriously, give it a rest.

4 of 5 STARS



Set List:

Stop the Show
You Were Right
Planting Seeds
Get a Life
Heart (Things Never Shared)
The Plan
Carry the Zero


Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)
Train in Vain (The Clash)
Sludgefeast (Dinosaur, Jr.)
How Soon is Now (The Smiths)

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