SASQUATCH! LAUNCH PARTY
Built to Spill
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Launch parties have become a regular occurrence for festivals over the last few years or so. I’m assuming that they are widespread; they’ve definitely seen a rise here in Seattle. I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the launch parties other than additional promotion, but I have no qualms with the community being provided with another free concert. Back in 2010, we received an invitation from Dickies to go to the Capitol Hill Block Party‘s “Kick Off Jam” which they were co-presenting with Filter magazine. The event was held on a Thursday– the very weeknight before the 4-day festival was to “kick off“–and it featured 3-bands who were just going to perform the next day anyway. That very same year the Sasquatch! Music Festival held their own event, which featured such acts as Atlas Sound and Surfer Blood that wouldn’t even appear at their festival at all. Plus, while the Kick off Jam was only about a mile or so from the actual event that it was promoting, the Sasquatch! launch parties are held in Seattle, which is easily at least 3 hours away from the Gorge Amphitheatre, where the annual festival is held. At first glance, the latter might seem like it doesn’t quite make as much sense, but it’s actually a whole lot more purposeful, in my opinion. The Block Party event was even on an inconvenient night and it felt like 2 out of the 3 bands phoned it in, because they were playing the next day anyway (Unnatural Helpers were solid). The Sasquatch event provided a free show that was open to those who might not be able to make it out for the actual festival and really used it to build the hype way in advance. They’ve also been using it as an opportunity to announce the entire lineup, which is somewhat brilliant in the day and age where every site wants to get the exact same information up as everyone else, but just slightly faster, because it prompts the media to flood twitter with that information live, boosting attention for the event even further. By this point, everyone who gives a fuck already knows what the lineup is (the official festival website posts the lineup immediately afterward, anyway), but I still find myself disappointed with the coverage of the launch party that I’ve seen up until this point. After all, it is more than just the announcement of a future event–it’s actually an event in and of itself.
This year the Sasquatch Launch Party fell on Monday, February 4th, which also happened to be my birthday. While we’ve covered the actual festival for the last 3 years, this is the first time that I’ve bothered to go to one of these events. For the second year in a row, the Launch Party was held at Neptune Theatre but, instead of picking up your free passes up at Easy Street records (like in 2010), having to get them from a Verizon Wireless store downtown (like in 2011), or actually pay $16 to get into this fucking thing like with the last one–it was getting worse and worse with each year–this time the free launch party tickets were made available at the actual venue will-call two days prior to the event. The window opened at noon on Saturday the 2nd (Groundhog day) and by the time that I showed up at around 2pm, the tickets were completely gone. I could sense that I was walking up to a box office that had just been mobbed like a rice field with a swarm of locusts. There were a couple of stragglers still wandering around, talking to will-call and security, ignoring the “SOLD-OUT” sign in the window and trying to figure out how they could get their hands on a pair of passes anyway. This was a non issue, because I was just there to take my son to an afternoon childrens concert by Caspar Babypants (the pseudonym of Chris Ballew from P.U.S.A.). Fortunately, I didn’t need tickets. I already got us guest listed; I wasn’t going to fuck around with that drama if there was any possible way that I could find to avoid it.
The first thing that I noticed as we approached the theatre was the scalpers. Scalpers for a free show, no less, and I don’t doubt that some folks were actually paying. Inside there’s a slightly elevated section in front of the bar, but behind the main floor, that is generally just a designated 21+ area and an extension of the bar area, itself. Tonight it was the VIP section. Before the festivities began, I ran into Jason Ross from the Seattle Theatre Group, the non-profit that took over responsibility of the former Landmark Theater and fixed it up, turning it into a really great small to mid-scale music and performance venue. He told me that the Launch Party tickets had disappeared in a mere 19 minutes. Apparently, the line to the box office nearly circled the entire block, and it’s not a small block. Built to Spill played a free show at UW in 2009 and it wasn’t very densely attended, so there’s definitely something about the marketing behind this event that’s different. For whatever reason, people really wanted to be there, or at least they wanted to be able to be there.
The show was hosted by KIRO-FM radio host/podcaster, Luke Burbank, just as it has been in previous years. Besides crackin’ jokes, one of the first things that he did was welcome vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Cody ChesnuTT to the stage.
I didn’t know who the fuck Cody ChesnuTT was, but having a name so similar to Kenny Chesney left some who were unfamiliar with his work confused as to what type of artist we should expect. When he hit the stage, ChesnuTT couldn’t have looked more different than a young country star. He’s a black man with a slightly wild, unkempt beard, who was wearing a bright red cardigan over a white T-Shirt featuring images of various-colored effects pedals on it. On his head was an army combat helmet. He moved around “passionately” in front of his backing band, belting out his vocals, but the songs that he sang were fairly straight up bluesy soul rock jams. Something about his energy reminded me of a young Richie Havens, but in turns out that this guy is actually about 45 years old and has been in the business for quite some time, in his own right.
Nothing against neo-soul, or whatever he’s working, but ChesnuTT simply wasn’t doing it for me. He’s talented, but he’s talented in the way that a street busker is talented. He played to his audience and the crowd seemed to be grooving to it, but it seemed like a novelty, “Ooh, black soul music. I’m not very familiar with this, but I know that this is, supposedly, a very quality form of music. We can get down to this, right? Sing it! Hey… let’s clap. We should totally clap. It’s soul music. If we don’t move does that mean that we don’t have souls?“ It’s beyond unfortunate, but Seattle really isn’t a city with very much African American integration and, as you could probably imagine, the Sasquatch! Launch Party was far from an exception. People love dropping dollars into the guitar cases of street musicians, clapping off-beat, and nodding (also off-beat) to the rhythm. Somebody is keeping those Peruvian flute bands going strong by purchasing their CDs, but I doubt that most of those people that do are bumping those jams on the reg. I do feel that there might be a subtle element of novelty with this type of music for this type of crowd, not only because it’s a genre that most of the folks aren’t overly familiar with, but also because there are enough cookie cutter elements that make it familiar and, in turn, more accessible and easy to embrace. Those who do have more of a history with this sound will either embrace it because they enjoy its formulaic nature, or they will be as bored as I was. For me, Cody ChesnuTT‘s influences, while respectable, were a little too noticeable and, from what I witnessed, he’s not doing enough to stand out and juke the shadows of those predecessors. The highlight of his set off was a rawkus version of his track, “Everybody’s Brother,” but it’s very possible that I just liked it because it included the line, “I used to smoke crack back in the day.” And when I say, “very possible,” I mean that it’s exactly why I liked it.
After Cody ChesnuTT exited, the following video was projected onto the screen, which also operated as a backdrop for the stage…
The implication here was that, since the festival also features a comedy tent, Nick Offerman might be performing. [Half-ass spoiler: He is.] The surprising part is that Offerman is already coming through Seattle on a tour prior to Memorial Day weekend and these type of festivals generally have a contract with performers that restricts them from playing within a certain time frame and distance before hand, so as not to conflict with ticket sales. This year they seem to be somewhat lax on those standards. [Ajt-J will be at the Neptune on April 6th, Michael Kiwanuka will play at the Paramount next month, and Toro Y Moi will be at The Crocodile at the end of this one.] This may be because there’s never any worry that the festival is actually going to sell out. [Another half-ass spoiler: it already has.]
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
The host returned to the stage and explained that the video unveiling the festival lineup would be playing soon, but not until after the “Very Special Surprise Guest Performance” took place. On the way to the venue, I had already told my girlfriend (Kim) that I knew that it was going to be Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. After I got there, we wound up speaking to someone else that was covering the show and he suggested that it might be Reignwolf performing instead. Both are Seattle performers that are severely over-hyped. Reignwolf played the festival last year, but also played an additional set outside of his van in the parking lot. His whole gimmick is that he “shreds” the guitar, writhes around playing behind his head, and that whole schtick. He’s technically skilled, but I couldn’t imagine actually listening to a recording of his music; it’s a little too American Music employee guitar solo demonstration rock for my taste. Vocally he goes for a bluesy Chris Cornell approach. Kim had never heard of Reignwolf, so the guy who suggested he might be playing tried to describe him as a “punk rock Jimi Hendrix,” until I pointed out that Hendrix was the one who set his guitar on fire and is listed as asphyxiating on his own vomit while fucked up on barbituates. Reignwolf is just a local guy that can play guitar well, but Seattle goes apeshit over locals with building hype. At least his major strengths are as a live performer and this was a live event. It didn’t matter anyway; there was a laptop on stage and some turntables by the time that Burbank was making his announcement. It was obviously going to be Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A lot of people were about to get really excited. I wasn’t one of them.
Macklemore ran out onto the stage to “Thrift Shop,” a track which, as Burbank had just explained, was the number one song in the country. The rapper was wearing what looked to be some very expensive, brand new designer jeans, a black tank top, a couple of thin gold chains circa 1982, and an awful jacket that looked like it was stolen from the set of Living Single or Paula Abdul‘s closet after the “Straight Up” video. It had those big ass shoulders a la Mc Hammer and 1980s comediennes. Honestly, it was hard to determine if the blazer was more Sinbad or vintage Designing Women. He came out spinning around, throwing his hands up, raising them in victory, kicking out one leg, hopping on the other and generally just feeding into the frenzied crowd. With him, of course, was his producer Ryan Lewis who always looks like his partner had just dragged him to a party where he doesn’t know anyone. “It’s cool man, don’t worry. I’ll show you how to hip hop when we get there.“ Also with him was trumpeter, Owuor Arunga, and “Wanz,” the software test engineer that is now building his own career off of the notoriety that he’s receiving from singing on this one and only track with them. Wearing sunglasses and looking like a knock-off Marcellus Wallace, Wanz vouches for Mack‘s ethnicity on the track when he refers to him as “a cold ass honky.” The crowd goes nuts. Everyone knows the song, including the local early morning news team and the audience of the Ellen show. People’s moms love it. Junior high kids love it. It’s a track that everyone can get down to like “I’m Too Sexy” and, with the gear that Mack‘s rocking, he’d look right at home in the Right Said Fred video. And look at him spin hop and dance… “Hey, ‘MACKarena’! Alright!”
Apparently, there’s a positive message for the kids in there. He uses the F-word, as he does on his other tracks, but speaks about shopping at thrift stores and not being focused on materialism? I’m just guessing. His brand new jeans don’t contradict this idea and, apparently, neither does his track “White Walls,”about his new Cadillac and rims, from the exact same album. Over all, Macklemore makes pop music and that’s cool that he’s doing well for himself, because, you know… he also has a good message and it’s positive for the kids to hear the negative side of doing drugs, as well, and to think about how derogatory phrases (“honky” excluded) affect people… well, negatively. Please also ignore the featured Schoolboy Q verse on “White Walls” where he mentions “White hoes in the backseat snorting coke” or talks about slapping a girls “booty” with his “balls.” Please also ignore Mack‘s usage of the words “shit,” “fuck,” and especially “bitch” during his verse, where he glorifies speeding through traffic and dangerously weaving around other cars. But like the prophet Macklemore states in his hit track “The Other Side,” where he essentially blames Lil Wayne, not only for getting young kids hooked on drinking cough syrup, but also himself–he’s publicly claimed that he, personally, believed that he could rap as good as his “favorite” rapper (Wayne), at the young impressionable age of 25, if he only drank cough syrup just like he did, but then he got addicted–”Us as rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids.“ So true my friend. Keep fighting the good fight. Oh yeah, he also screamed out the word “BITCH!” during his “Thrift Shop” performance at this very event.
For the next track, the most suburban friendly rapper/producer duo since the alien fighter and the underappreciated DJ who invented the chirp scratch (seriously, don’t judge Jazzy Jeff by that cornball Hollywood mother fucker he kicked it with), performed what is, perhaps, their most socially conscious track. [Oh Macklemore, parents just do understand, because they buy your albums.] “Same Love” is a song that was used to help promote Washington state‘s referendum 74 which legalized gay marriage. It’s earned the duo a ton of LGBTQ followers, most of which are, otherwise, not very familiar with rap music. That’s the greatest part about being cause-centric, you get to reach outside of the general target audience and direct one specific track to one hyper-specific demographic at a time (anti-drug alliances, the gay community, Mariners fans, etc), increasing your fanbase by siphoning people from each of those particular groups. They started this cut off with Macklemore getting incredibly serious. He mentioned how pleased he was to finally be back in Seattle after all of their recent touring. The crowd screamed in support. Then he mentioned that this was going to be the first time for them to perform the next song since marriage equality officially went into effect. Another uproar of support came pouring in. Noticeably absent was Mary Lambert, the local, openly-lesbian, Caucasian poetry slam champion who wrote and sings the hook on the track– arguably, the most vital element of the song. Just because the sentiment is noble–even if it may be a somewhat easy cause to adopt from the vantage point of Capitol Hill in Seattle– this track has been used by a lot of people to argue that “only an idiot wouldn’t be a fan of Macklemore.” Apparently, the actual musicality of this operation is irrelevant and, if you’re not into the music being created by this young white, often misogynistic, heterosexual male, then you must hate the gays. But even doubters like myself could tell that he was really feeling it on this night. We could tell, because he started it off emotionally (aka: with his eyes close).
The third and final song of their short set was “Can’t Hold Us,” their “Empire State of Mind” style anthem rap track. The chorus is sung by a babyfaced young black vocalist by the name of Ray Dalton who has a good voice, but didn’t look especially comfortable on the live stage. This whole sudden international fame thing is probably overwhelming for some of these folks who are involved. This is an upbeat number and so a lot of energy was exuded for this one as well. Confetti fell from the ceiling and clouds of smoke blasted up from all over the stage. Macklemore walked on top of the crowd; he emphasized his lyrics in trademark fashion with an excessive amount of arm movement, chopping away like he was clearing a fictional pathway through overgrown wetlands. Ryan Lewis raised a mic stand over his head and even ran out towards the crowd with his own mic. Oh man, the kids were really eating it up. I’m not a fan of Macklemore–in fact, I’ve been very vocal about that, especially as of late–but if you are into what these guys are doing, they do put on a high energy show that you’ll probably really enjoy. They announced that their appearance at the launch party was a signifier letting us know that they would also be performing at the actual festival. Of course they would. Imagine if you grew up in an area that had a huge festival that you’ve even had the chance to perform at on a sidestage. Now you’ve got a ridiculous amount of hype behind you and have the opportunity to be a big name on the bill. I saw this one coming a mile away. The launch party was just an opportunity to come reap all of that praise that they’ve accumulated in this small pond. It must be nice to take that in as a performer, considering how often people can be non-responsive to what you’re doing. Deserved or not, there was a lot of confidence and energy coming from this 3-song set and the audience responded to everything that he asked of them.
The Lineup Announcement
Next came the video that everyone was waiting for: the lineup announcement. A couple of girls had moved up next to where I had been posted up all night at the front of the VIP section and were trying to tell me that my camera bag was touching them. I let them know that I didn’t give a fuck, that I was shooting the show, that I’d been there for a long fucking time, and that they had pushed up into my area and were buggin’. Well… they just wanted to let me know that my bag was touching them. I’m tired of this shit. There are always some trifling broads with makeup caked on their faces that expect people to jump to their beck and call and react to their bullshit. The fact is that they were bumping into a bag on my back, because they crammed in next to me, trying to edge me out of my spot, so fuck ‘em. There was also a guy with them that looked like he was about to say something, but he didn’t. Later he gave me his business card and asked if I would please send him some Ryan Lewis photos. I’m not going to.
Those chattering harpies, along with everybody else, pulled out their cell phones to start TWEEEEEEEETING! Gotta do your part to tweet that lineup out on the internet, folks. Jesus christ…
So the video begins and there’s a Grimes song playing, so we all know that she’s gonna be there. [It's funny to think that last year at this time, I received an email from her publicist asking if I wanted to go see her perform at the tiny Sunset Tavern before her album was released.] The first name that hits the screen is Mumford and Sons, a band that played the smallest stage at the festival in 2010 and, within a few months, was one of the biggest acts in the world. “YAAAAAAAAY!“ Everyone screams. This is starting off badly. The next name is Vampire Weekend and, with it, more applause comes. I’ve already said what I had to say about those mediocre boat shoe enthusiasts the last time that they played the festival. The Lumineers (more Little House on the Prairie folk) are next, then the Postal Service (their whole album sounded like the same song over and over again). Every act gets greeted with an uproar of applause. The XX I can handle (their new album puts my toddler to sleep in the car every time like clockwork). Hmmm… Sigur Ros I’m also willing to check out; while I’m not super familiar with their Icelandic post-rock catalog, their documentary Heima was beautiful enough for me to be hopeful that they would provide a solid finish to one of those long hot festival days. I’m trying to be positive here. Then comes Macklemore and Ryan Lewis‘ names, which sucks, but I was prepared for it. CAKE? Not interested. I have no Arcitc Monkeys history, so that does nothing for me… but what’s this?! PRIMUS 3D! At least there’s a light. This I want to see. I start reading names like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros after that and I just kind of shut off. This line up feels like just a bunch of terrible shit sprinkled with acts that I’ve already seen recently. 4 days of this, I don’t know if I can swing this time around.
After Macklemore following an uninspired Cody ChenuTT set, this video kind of sunk my night like a defective Cheerio. Of course, the side stages are always the best thing about Sasquatch anyway, and there’s actually some stuff that’s worth checking out this year. You can maneuver around a festival and create a weekend that’s still pretty dense, seeing solid acts, and avoiding the more obvious ones. I can’t really expect another year like WEEN and Pavement I suppose, so I’m going to have to adjust my viewpoint and deal with what’s been provided. Tame Impala puts on a really good live show and I’m definitely happy to see Death Grips, Killer Mike, EL-P, Akron/Family, and Baths again. It’s about really breaking it down and seeing the entire schedule laid out and I believe that, in the end, this could actually turn out to be a fairly decent lineup, if I dodge most of the main shit that’s going down. Still, at that moment, I wasn’t having the best night or feeling too optimistic. Happy Birthday, indeed.
BUILT TO SPILL
If I wasn’t feeling old enough, I was about to see Built to Spill, a band whose live shows I have been attending for 18 years at this point. Yikes. They are also a band who I have a great respect for. Even as a 16 year old, BTS frontman, Doug Martsch was always incredibly accommodating to me when I would run into him. He’s one of the most gracious and humble people that I’ve ever met, along with being one of the most consistent and influential musicians that is still performing today. Their sound has been picked apart and imitated time and time again, but while former BTS openers like Modest Mouse and fellow Northwesterners, Death Cab For Cutie, have used their Martsch-influenced sounds to skyrocket to international stardom, Built to Spill themselves is still often overlooked by those very bands’ fanbases. In 2011, both Death Cab and Modest Mouse were headliners at Sasquatch! This year, Built to Spill will be treated like more of a second-tier act. This isn’t something that Doug Martsch ever seems very concerned about.
For two decades they’ve put out music that has proven incredibly enduring and they’ve done so by maintaining the same heart and integrity that they’ve exhibited from the beginning, while successfully continuing to take chances. Their 1997 major label debut Perfect From Now On showcased some really inventive song structures, especially. At the group’s inception, the plan was for Martsch to switch up the lineup of who would be performing with him on each album to insure a new dynamic with each release, but he abandoned that formula once that album came out and decided to stick it out with his rhythm section of Brett Nelson (bass) and Scott Plouf (drums) rounding out the trio. Since the amazing guitar work on his albums often consisted of over dubs which would limit their ability to duplicate everything live, the group slowly began to expand. Jim Roth played with the Delusions, a band that would regularly open for them, and he began filling in on second guitar until he eventually became an official member. Later on, Caustic Resin frontman, frequent studio contributor, and bassist for the original incarnation that appeared on the very first BTS release, Ultimate Alternative Wavers, Brett Netson joined on as the third guitarist. This has been the lineup for the last few years, but recently a huge announcement came in that Nelson and Plouf would be exiting the band after all this time, leaving them with a brand new rhythm section consisting of Stephen Gere (drums) and Jason Albertini (bass). Albertini had opened up for Built to Spill in the past with his project Helvetia, which features its own rotating live band that has included both Roth and Plouf among its ranks. Gere plays in Netson‘s band. This means that they aren’t completely new to the BTS circle or what the band is doing, but I still had to wonder how smoothly this transition would go. This launch party would be one of their first few live shows ever.
Jumping slightly ahead, I want to state for the record that the Built to Spill set sounded amazing and completely pulled a 180 on the entire night, which was nosediving for me quickly. In fact, their set is the only real reason that I’ve made any effort to write anything about the launch party at all, because nobody else really seemed to give a shit or bothered to say much about the amazing show that they put on. Some reviews do, however, mention how the writer left the show to go eat frozen yogurt, or, in another case, simply walked out before they even hit the stage. It seems as if the lineup/news about the who would perform at a festival in the future is all that anyone really cared about other than writing about Macklemore. The fact that there was a legitimate headliner there and a show presently taking place didn’t seem to register and, when the show was that solid, it’s a shame that there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, real acknowledgement of the performance other than my own.
The first thing that caught my attention was how effortless Albertini and Gere filled their positions. Scott Plouf always had some very capable and underrated drum parts for the band, which combined heavy, deliberate beats with incredibly inspired and intuitive transitions. I didn’t know how they would replace him, but they’ve done almost seamlessly well. I’ve been seeing Doug for almost 2 full decades, so I’m obviously a fan of his music, but I would be lying if I said that they didn’t have their hit and miss moments over the last few years. While still enjoyable, their free 2009 UW performance was wrought with errors, the Capitol Hill Block Party set from the same year was fairly solid, and the benefit show that they played with an unadvertised Halo Benders reunion in Olympia at the end of 2010 had a special charm of its own for very specific reasons. That being said, it sometimes felt like they had begun to go through the motions, even if they were often very capable and, often, even quite enjoyable motions. There had been a lot of noise about Doug creating one last album before putting the kibosh on the entire project once and for all, but, with Nelson and Plouf leaving, that entire album has been put on the back burner anyway. Hopefully any speculation about the band ending was premature as well. As opposed to fucking up the entire dynamic of the group, these two new collaborators have actually injected them with a new vitality, effectively accomplishing exactly what the original rotating lineup concept was intended to. Just by adding new blood into the fold, it forces the veterans to be more in the moment, because one would have to imagine how easily they could fall into being too in the pocket and safe when they’ve been doing this for so long.
From the beginning, the 5-piece was delving into some deeper areas of the catalog that they haven’t explored as much over the last few times that I’ve seen them, playing songs like the eponymous track “Built to Spill” off of their 1993 debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers. I wondered, at the time, if they simply asked the new members what songs they’d want to play, since they were starting from scratch anyway, and if it has simply allowed them to break routine and refresh the setlists. With new members, they can’t just show up unprepared and crack out an entire show as easily anymore, which is precisely what the 2009 UW concert felt like they were attempting. Since the show, I have discovered something interesting, however. At the end of March, they will perform 3-nights of the 2nd annual Treefort Music Fest in Boise, wherein the first night will see them performing Ultimate Alternative Wavers in it’s entirety, as part of a 20th anniversary celebration of it’s release. I’m glad the need to practice those songs is forcing them back into their live repertoire, because it’s a great album full of tracks that they really don’t feature quite enough. The majority of the rest of the show was made up of early to mid 90s joints from their second and third albums. 1994‘s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love is the album that I have the most emotional and nostalgic connection to, so I love hearing songs like “Stab,” “Source,” and “Reasons,” all of which they performed. They also made sure to pull out “Kicked It In The Sun” and “Made Up Dreams,” which are two of my favorite tracks from Perfect From Now On. Also in the mix, later in the show, were Keep it Like A Secret cuts such as “Carry the Zero” and “The Plan,” which found its way into their encore block. One of the handful of unexpected moments in the show also involved a full-band version of “Heart (Things Never Shared),” the one track from Doug‘s remarkable 2002 solo album, Now You Know that wasn’t written in some screwball tuning.
I never thought of Built to Spill as having any legitimate smash hits, except for maybe “Car,” on an influential indie song level, or possibly “Conventional Wisdom,” simply because there was a video made for it. That being said, people really seem to like “Time Trap.” Can someone tell me if that was featured on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack or something, because the audience members that love it don’t seem to be actual fans who know any other track and only want to hear that one. During the BTS Block Party performance in Seattle a few years back, I had to stand next to some obnoxious, shrieking disaster of a frat-party date-rape-waiting-to-happen who kept screaming, “PLAAAAAY TIIIME TRAAAAP! IT’S MY BIIIIIIRTHDAY! PLAY TIIIIIIME TRAAAAAP!” into my fucking ear. Everybody told her to shut the fuck up, but it continued throughout the whole goddamn show and in packed quarters. I’m glad that they didn’t play it, simply for that reason. I decided to walk through the crowd for a couple of minutes, at this show, and when I did, I heard some guy yelling “TIME TRAP! TIME TRAP!“ They didn’t play it this time either. Someone responded by yelling, “Free bird!” and when they did, the “Time Trap” guy told them to shut up, as if they were the hecklers. Clearly this clown has no idea that Built to Spill has often played one of the greatest renditions of “Free Bird” that I’ve ever heard. In fact, if I ever had to pick one band to play an entire show full of cover songs on my birthday it would be Built to Spill.
Doug has the uncanny ability to take classic songs and make them his own, without fucking it up and, often, even making it sound better than ever. It’s a genuine skill that I’ve yet to see outmatched by anyone. They used to end a fair amount of their shows with an epic 20-minute version of Neil Young‘s “Cortez the Killer” in the early two-thousands and, during that same time period, even had a dub version of Elton John‘s “Daniel” that they’d mix into the setlists. They’ve been known to break out rousing rendition of tracks from artists that range from Brian Eno (“Third Uncle“) to M.I.A. (“Paper Planes“) and even crafted a tremendous version of “Some Things Last A Long Time” that rivaled the emotional impact of the Daniel Johnston original, a feat that is incredibly difficult to achieve. Well, tonight was my birthday and they weren’t short on cover songs. They played 3 in total, beginning with a unexpected version of Captain Beefheart‘s “Abba Zabba” with some terrific guitar work and the gruff vocals handled masterfully by Brett Netson. Later in the show, an anonymous man came out from the back stage. He was handed a cowbell right before they tore into Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Jim Roth took over the soaring guitar solo on this one. The last one came during the encore portion of the night, introduced by Martsch with a simple, “One more cover.” They played The Smiths’ “How Soon As Now,” which was another surprise that I’ve never seen them tackle before, as well as another song that couldn’t have sounded more perfect if they would have written it themselves.
[Hey, Look! Somebody recorded it!]
Built to Spill did not play like they were simply there for some pointless launch party, even if a lot of attendees either shut off or completely walked out of the doors once the lineup was announced. Instead, they played what was honestly one of the best shows that I’d seen from them in forever and it lasted for quite a while. If you think that the highlight of the evening was 3-songs from Macklemore or a video announcement, then something’s wrong. If you left early, then you fucked up. If you only cared to find out what was going to happen in the future, then you missed the present. This wasn’t necessarily their crowd, but the band played to it regardless, and the select minority that was there for them above all else were beyond appreciative. Even the drunk girl that walked up next to me, climbed on the railing, and whipped her hair side to side like a coked up Tawny Kitaen, while trying to make sure that I, and anyone else in the crowd, was paying attention to her, wasn’t going to kill my buzz. [She later climbed up on the stage and then, trying to crowd surf, hopped down and landed on her feet, once everyone moved out of the way.] So maybe this show didn’t restore my faith in the Seattle live music audience, or even the media that covers such events, but it did restore my faith in the future of Built to Spill and, in turn, it helped to restore my faith in the 2013 Sasquatch! lineup. These guys are playing the festival too, so I don’t know why I wasn’t figuring that into the equation. If they’re playing then anywhere near how they are performing now, Built to Spill is a definitely a must see that, alone, adds an enormous value to the ticket price. Happy birthday, indeed.
BUILT TO SPILL will be performing 3 nights of the 4-day Boise, Idaho Treefort Music Festival that runs from March 21-24. Along with their Ultimate Alternative Wavers set on the 22nd, they will follow up with a regular set that pulls from the rest of their catalog on 23rd, and finish up the festival with a an entire set of cover songs on the 24th. Openers include Quasi and Camper Van Beethoven. Get tickets to TREEFORT MUSIC FESTIVAL HERE.
As for Sasquatch!, those tickets went on sale this morning and have already completely SOLD OUT. I guess those tweets were working. Simply start watching craigslist about a month or so before the festival date to see the prices rise astronomically and then plummet into a reasonable price range where you can purchase them.