Boise, Idaho’s Built to Spill, perhaps the archetypal American indie-rock band, swung into town last night for a 90-minute set at Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room, the band’s first South Florida first appearance in two years.
“We’re psyched to be down here,” said frontman Doug Martsch at one point, which was maybe the only time he addressed the packed crowd with anything other than a “thank you.” The road warriors looked a bit tired for the first half of the set, not particularly psyched at all. For a spell, the only sign that Martsch wasn’t simply going through the motions was the twitchy, reflexive movement of his right leg, jerking back and forth in caffeinated spasms. In “Joyride,” a sardonic and hilarious old number that ranks among my favorite Built to Spill tunes, Martsch dropped the lyrics at the end of every verse, retreating to the back of the stage out of apparent boredom, and eventually abandoning the stage altogether for the instrumental passage at the end of the song.
That being said, last night’s show offered the best Built to Spill set list out of the four times I’ve seen them. The stop was part of a generous off-album tour, and without new material to promote, the band dug deep into its archives, playing more music from its first three lovely albums than I’ve heard at any other show. Even in the instances when the band itself seemed unengaged, the music was staggeringly rhapsodic, enveloping concertgoers in a warm squall of structured noise and plaintive pop (“Twin Falls,” though I’ve heard it played live before, is always a pleasant surprise). Martsch’s vocals were occasionally drowned out by three guitars surrounding them, as expected, but for the most part the Culture Room’s sometimes shaky sound system seemed perfectly pliant to the music.
“I Could Hurt a Fly” sounded, as well it should, like one of the best songs of the past quarter-century; like so many great Built to Spill tunes, it came off as two songs in one package, filled as it is with triumphant melodic surprises. “Carry the Zero,” the band’s regular set-list closer, also fits this description, and it roused the docile crowd of gentle head-boppers into the night’s closest approximation of a musical revolution. And as for the dream-pop nirvana of “Car,” which snuck into the lengthy encore? Pure bliss. Here’s what I remember of the set list:
In the Morning
I Could Hurt a Fly
You Were Right
Carry the Zero
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
Virginia Reel Around the Fountain