Faingold at Large Presents: Rocktober Part 5 - Built To Spill and friends in Bloomington
My perhaps foolhardy "Rocktober" tour of regional music and comedy shows came to a weird (and weirdly exultant) conclusion last night at Bloomington's Castle Theatre for a concert by long-running Boise, Idaho guitar band Built To Spill.
In contrast to most show reviews, I will start by focusing on the opening acts and then pretty much skip straight to the encore.
I had never heard of either Genders from Portland, Oregon or Slam Dunk from Victoria, B.C. before last night's concert, but I shan't forget either name anytime soon. Both turned in indelible sets and easily won over the crowd of hardened Built To Spill die-hards. The moody Genders seemed to switch emotional and sonic gears completely from one song to the next, with most of the instrumental firepower coming from singer-guitarist Maggie Morris and drummer Katherine Paul. A little shell-shocked from the recent loss of their touring van, the band's Crazy Horse-style four-piece dynamic was nonetheless an object lesson in rock economy. In contrast, Slam Dunk embodied flat-out rock and roll insanity right out of the gate, with guitarist/vocalists Duncan McConnell and Jordan Minkoff fairly bouncing off the walls with goofy abandon. Their set flew by at a breakneck pace.
Built To Spill kicked off their set with the epic "Going Against Your Mind" and plowed through a show that was a dream come true for fans of creative, aggressive guitar-work. BTS founder and front-man Doug Martsch plays his guitar like its an appendage of his lanky frame and he and guitarist Jim Roth each used an array of stompboxes to turn their extended solos into real-time dub mixes (or perhaps miniature musique-concrete experiments), creating a kind of splatter-art effect against the solid rhythmic canvas laid down by third guitarist Brett Netson, drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini, all in the service of a solid selection of Martsch's catchy and quirky songs from throughout the band's excellent 20-year catalog.
Built To Spill is well-known for pulling eclectic cover versions out of its collective back pocket, so it wasn't too much of a surprise during the encore when Martsch dryly announced "this will be our last song" and launched into the tremolo-and-distortion drenched intro to "How Soon Is Now?" by The Smiths. This "last song," however did not careen to an end until almost 40 minutes later.
It started as a typical BTS-style cover, with an equally reverent and revisionist attitude toward the song's original version. Roth absolutely went to town doing variations on Johnny Marr's deceptively simple original lead parts while Martsch relentlessly rode the primary repetitive riff to the point of consciousness-obliterating hypnosis. Somewhere around the rendition's 20 minute mark, the sound onstage seemed to increase palpably and audience members began to look behind them. What we quickly realized was that Slam Dunk's McConnell and Minkoff had each surreptitiously set their guitars and amplifiers up on opposite sides of the balcony and were both adding their joyful, crazed riffing to the overall maelstrom, now five guitars strong. The two Canadians appeared as guitar-wielding gargoyles come to life there on the balcony and the sense of being spontaneously surrounded on all sides by swirling, lunatic guitar playing was disorienting, giddy and, well, a more than satisfyingly gonzo end to my Rocktober adventure.
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