At the tail end of 2010, I drove down from Seattle to my old stomping grounds of Olympia, Washington to see a benefit concert at the Capitol Theater. I had, for the most part, been taking an extended (several year) break from returning to the area for personal reasons, but I couldn’t miss this one: Built To Spill was the headliner. Not only that, but due to the fact that the show was in the belly of K Records territory and that the The Hive Dwellers — one of many projects by label founder, Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Soundsystem) — was scheduled as an opener on the bill, rumors began circulating about a potential Halo Benders reunion. The collaboration between Johnson and Built To Spill frontman, Doug Martsch, put out a trio of albums in the 1990s through K, but I never had the chance to catch them live during that period and, apart from the random cameos that Calvin would occasionally make during BTS shows around Seattle, I wasn’t sure that that that opportunity would ever present itself again. When we pulled up to the venue, “The Halo Benders” had already been added to the marquee. They would go on last, transitioning immediately out of the Built To Spill set, and an old dream would finally be realized.
The story behind the benefit, as I remember it, was that Martsch had agreed to perform after being contacted by the parents of a little girl named Mia who’d been diagnosed with High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. This event was put together for her. Last year, after hearing that BTS would be headlining another benefit in Olympia, I was saddened to discover that, after a courageous 3 years, Mia tragically lost her battle at the age of only 5 years old. This time around, all profits would be going toward a non-profit dedicated to funding childhood cancer research, founded under the name Friends of Mia in her honor. As someone who has met Doug countless times over the last 2 decades, it was no surprise that he would take part in something of that nature; he’s always come across as one of the most humble and genuine artists that I’ve ever encountered. One of the first things that crossed my mind when I heard that they were playing at the venue was being in a green room at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland years ago and having Martsch express to me that he’d never really been much of a fan of performing at the Capitol Theater, because he felt that he could never get that great of a sound of the space. Clearly, that feeling took a back seat to raising money for children and, to those of us in attendance, they definitely sounded pretty fucking great that night.
While Martsch continues to live and work out of Boise, Built To Spill does have a documented history that connects them to the Capitol Theater. Perhaps, most notably is the fact that numerous photographs of the building grace the packaging of the Built To Spill Live album that was released back in 2000, although those photos aren’t of the band members themselves and none of the performances featured actually took place there. They also played multiple shows at the venue throughout the 90s, including installments of the now-legendary, multi-day independent music festival, Yoyo A Go-Go. Just recently, we’ve come across some great live footage that has surfaced from that mid-90s era and it’s fairly remarkable what it documents, especially for those of us that are huge fans of Doug Martsch‘s catalog; particularly the early stuff.
My friend Justin (aka Mac Dawg) is the person that indirectly compelled me to move out to Olympia around 1999/2000 and, as long as I’ve known him, he’s been working with recording equipment and documenting something in one way or another, whether it be audio — making/releasing and/or producing dozens of independent 4-track albums, and utilizing reel-to-reel to record acts like the pre-Wolves In The Throne Room project, The Lords Of Lightspeed — or on the visual front, doing shit like filming experimental films on a Bolex or taking it upon himself to hone a super-8 film developing process tailored for the campus darkroom and distributing that knowledge to local students at The Evergreen State College. As technology has slowly caught up with us all, it has made certain things possible that were much more difficult and/or time consuming even 5 or 10 years ago, let 20 or more. This is especially true with transferring content for archival purposes. About 4 years ago, another friend, Jon Brogger (aka Co$tna of Hollywood Kill Krew) gave him a few of his numerous old video tapes to transfer to from video8 to digital, something that Justin only recently has had the opportunity to finish processing, now with better resources to sync up audio, etc. What Jon handed over were no less than 4 different Doug Martsch related live performances recorded between 1994 and 95 — one Halo Benders show and 3 with Built To Spill — but from what it sounds like, it’s possible that what I’ve seen barely even scrapes the surface. What Jon has told me is that he has, “most of their early Oly/Seattle/Portland shows,” explaining that he “was pretty much the only dude with a camera back then.”
For those less familiar with the history of Built To Spill, the band was originally formed in 1992 after Martsch parted ways with Treepeople. The idea for the band was to have a completely new set of backing members rotate in from album to album, allowing Martsch to remain in a consistent state of fresh collaboration. This concept disintegrated around the 1997 major label debut, Perfect From Now On, as Doug tired of reteaching the songs to new members, instead settling on the classic rhythm section of Brett Nelson (now of Sick Wish) on bass and former Spinanes drummer, Scott Plouff, which would endure over the following decade-and-a-half, before they each left to pursue other endeavors outside of the group in 2012/13. In the early years, however, the contributors did rotate quite frequently, as originally intended. The band’s 1993 debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers, featured Brett Netson (Caustic Resin) on bass and Martsch‘s brother-in-law/future Halo Bender, Ralf Youtz behind the drums, with Brett Nelson (with an “L”) and Andy Capps replacing the pair respectively for the 1994 followup, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. The Nelson and Capps incarnation was interesting because it mirrored the same lineup as Doug‘s first band, Farm Days, which the trio formed back in the early 80s, while they were still in high school. In the gap between the release of TNWWL and Perfect From Now On, Capps wasn’t simply switched out for Plouff; there were actually at least two completely different versions of the group that popped up temporarily. In 1995, Doug teamed up with the members of Caustic Resin for the aptly titled, Built To Spill Caustic Resin EP; but that was technically more as a one-off recording collaboration than any official BTS “lineup,” even if “Still Flat,” the song that they recorded for the AIDS benefit comp, Red Hot + Bothered, later appeared on the 1996 Built To Spill compilation album, The Normal Years. Also featured on a single track from The Normal Years was the lineup which consisted of Doug being backed by James Bertram (bass) and David Schneider, who joined as touring members after the dissolution of the band, Lync.
In two of the Built To Spill shows that have been uploaded, Jon captured that short-lived Lync formation of the band in 1995, which is noteworthy on its own, but it’s that other BTS show from the year before that contains the truly remarkable footage for a number of reasons. On a personal level, the Nelson and Capps lineup was the first version of the project that I came to know via There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, which continues to occupy a spot as one of the most important albums for me throughout my own life. On a broader scale, it was also the band’s breakout album, of sorts, with the song “Car” becoming the closest thing to a “hit” they would have at the time. At the end of the show, Calvin Johnson makes his way onto the stage to knock out 5 Halo Benders tracks with the group, including “Scarin’,” a song which also wound up as the B-Side for the “Distopian Dream Girl” 7-inch, as well as the European “Car” single, except with Doug on vocals. The fact that Andy Capps is drumming in the video footage is also significant, due to the fact that he passed away in 2006 — I’ve since seen the band dedicate “Car” to him when they perform it live. But what’s the most fascinating is the time period in which the show takes place, because, although it features material from both Ultimate Alternative Wavers and There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, the latter had still yet to be released. At that point, these were songs that had never even been heard by the majority of the general public before.
I always try my best to be as accurate as possible with the information that we post here on the site and, if anything is off, I encourage anyone to let us know in the comment section, so that it can be adjusted. In trying to track date the date of this show, I first came across a listing on Setlist.fm, which identically matches the set list of the show, minus the Halo Benders portion. That post has it listed as being part of the very first Yoyo A Go Go festival with a show date of July 15th, 1994. The very beginning of the video footage that Jon recorded involves Doug stating, “We’re sort of just waiting for some things to get set up — some recording gear. Then we’ll play.” Since Yoyo did, in fact, record performances, later releasing compilations from the festivals, the idea that the band was waiting for “recording gear” “to get set up,” actually could lend some credence to the theory that this show may have been from the festival. The problem with Setlist.fm, however; as anyone who has used it is likely aware, is that the content is user-generated and edited, meaning that it is consistently wrong. These days, someone can even punch the sets into the site directly from their phones while still at the show and they still fuck them up, so if there is an audio recording floating around from 22 years ago, it’s not entirely impossible that somebody might have simply assumed that it was from their Yoyo set, whether it was or not, and listed it as such. The bigger problem is that, while there is plenty of reference to Built To Spill‘s 1997 appearance at the festival, I had been locating next to nothing that even referenced them playing in 1994. The Halo Benders, on the other hand, are almost always mentioned in regards to anything written about that year. In fact, they even appear on the 3xLP Yoyo A Go Go comp that was recorded in ’94, along with 35 other bands, while Built To Spill do not. I began to wonder if the band performed at Yoyo at all that year, until I finally came across a poster that clearly lists “Built To Spill + Halo Benders” for the date in question, which would make sense, since it was somewhat of a hybrid showcase. I later came across another listing corroborating that date with corresponding set list on a site indexing Built To Spill‘s live history. Also user-generated, it lists the source for the information as a “recording” and includes a dead link to what appears to be a page mentioning that they played the festival as reference. My belief is that two different dates are probably being mixed up, with the set list posted on those sites being pulled from an audio recording of the show that we have the video from, but the show in the video not actually being from Yoyo.
So, why, with the evidence I’ve located, am I not entirely convinced, or comfortable just going ahead and titling this post as a Yoyo A Go Go show? There are a few reasons, with the most important being that the person who shot it has doubts about the show taking place in July and doesn’t remember it ever being associated with the festival. Based on a couple of different factors, Jon believes that this concert might have actually occurred a bit earlier in the year; possibly, sometime around February. One thing that’s for sure is that There’s Nothing Wrong With Love definitely wasn’t out yet — the album wasn’t released until mid-September — so the only real question is whether the band had just finished recording it weeks before, or had still yet to even take those tracks into he studio. Even if the show had taken place that summer, it would still mark the first known live performance ever documented for many of the tracks.
Thinking back on the show, Jon recalls the following: “I remember the album wasn’t out… first time I’d heard any TNWWL songs… I was blown away.”
The Halo Benders‘ debut, God Don’t Make No Junk, was also released in 1994, but at the end of June, meaning that that material was incredibly fresh, as well. In fact, if Jon is correct about the timeline and the show was from the beginning of the year, most people may not have even been aware of the project, at all, before this performance.
He explains, as follows: “If memory serves, this show was pre GDMNJ and (I believe) the Canned Oxygen paper bag single. Basically, nobody knew Halo Benders existed…” He adds, “The only songs that were floating around at that time were from Ultimate Alternative Wavers…at least among people I ran with.”
The facts that everyone is dressed in warmer clothing and that the performance takes place in the much smaller Capitol Theater Backstage area, rather than the main room, also suggest that it might have been an earlier winter concert, rather that a headlining spot at the festival in July. Plus, Halo Benders was more than just Calvin singing with Built To Spill; they had a separate rhythm section of their own, consisting of Ralf and former Treepeople bassist, Wayne “Rhino” Flower, that one might expect to perform with them at an official show — in fact, both members even took the stage for the last minute Friends Of Mia show at the theater in 2010. But the most suspicious element of it all isn’t the fact that, even though they are essentially part of the same set, the Halo Benders tracks aren’t included or referenced at all on the 2 set lists that claim they are from Yoyo ’94. Rather, it’s a completely different “set list” that’s posted elsewhere on the same site, which adds to the confusion. Setlist.FM includes a listing for the ’94 Yoyo fest Halo Benders show, but it only lists one solitary song: “Freedom Riders.” This track is easy to confirm, as it’s also the live song included from the band on the Yoyo comp from that year, which is clearly where whoever posted it got the information that they played it from, even if the rest of the set list was left blank. The problem is that, out of the 5 songs that they perform in the show that Jon recorded, “Freedom Riders,” is not one of them.
In an attempt to clear this up, I figured that I’d go straight to the man himself and emailed Doug Martsch directly, hoping that even if he doesn’t remember this show specifically, he still might be able to provide some insight into the time period, trying those tracks out for the first time leading up to the There’s Nothing Wrong… release, etc. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to “remember anything from that time.”
Maybe, you do. If you were at this show, have any more specifics, and/or could provide some insight of your own in the comment section, it would be great to be able to gain some additional perspective and backstory. Until then, being able to watch early footage of one of the most consistent and influential– albeit, under-recognized — acts of my generation, as they introduce some of the most enduring and affecting material of their career will have to be enough. Thanks again to Jon for capturing this and to Justin for uploading it and sending it my way. Those other early shows can be found on the Krazed Up Records Youtube channel by clicking HERE.
“Nowhere Nothin’ Fuckup”
“Three Years Ago Today”
“Get A Life”
“Built To Spill”