Friday, July 13th, 2007
Randy Described Eternity
I’ve been making much of the fact that this past Tuesday and Wednesday night’s Built To Spill shows were the band’s first in Toronto, but it wasn’t my first time seeing them – I got to check them off my “must see” list at Lollapalooza last year. But a rigid festival-length set really isn’t enough to fully contain the majesty that is Built To Spill, so I was still pretty stoked to see at least half of their Hogtown debut.
The opener for the Toronto and Montreal dates seemed an odd choice for the indie rock legends – Attack In Black share a label with screamo mall-punks Alexisonfire as well as a point of origin in the Niagara Peninsula (AiB are from Welland, of canal fame). A quick MySpace listen didn’t do much for me and I considered missing their set in favour of naptime but I headed out regardless and learned that you can’t judge a band by their MySpace (except that usually you can). Rather than the shouty, adolescent angst-rock I’d expected, I found band channeling old sounds – well, 80s old – with great youthful energy. Raw and rootsy in the vein of Springsteen or The Replacements but enough suburban sheen to appeal to modern rock radio. Still not a band I’d have thought would appeal to the BTS demographic but worth skipping a nap for.
Lee’s Palace was rightly packed well before the headliners’ scheduled start time and it’s just as well as they got started a good 20 minutes early. I suspect a good portion of them had been there on Tuesday night as well and the investment paid off well as the setlists for Tuesday and Wednesday had minimal overlap – just four songs – and were overflowing with awesome. Surely appreciating the fact that this was the first time many/most in attendance had ever seen them, Doug Martsch led his band on a leisurely stroll through their whole catalog, from the compact spiky pop gems of the earlier independent records to the expansive, prog-psych rock outs of the Warner years.
Built To Spill are not much to look at onstage. Five guys, about as middle-aged and unassuming as you can get and dressed for comfort but put guitars in their hands and oh man. Though technically you can call it jammy, but the noodly connotations of the word don’t do Built To Spill justice – I prefer to think of it as sonic sculpture. Martsch, Brett Netson and Jim Roth’s guitars create cascades, torrents, DELUGES of sound that intertwine, tease, attack and make sweet love to each other – it’s a 22-string orgy up there – and yet it’s all done within the context of superb pop songs and none of it is self-indulgent, it’s all in the service of the song.
Of course, this is what every jam band fan would say about their bands but Built To Spill are just different. Only on the 27-minute encore of “Randy Described Eternity” did they seem to really start to wander but they’d been playing nearly two hours at that point, so they can be excused. But my favourite part of the encore was watching Scott Plouf begin packing up his drum kit while the guitarists were still playing. A too-funny cap to an amazing show that, while I don’t know if it was worth the fifteen-year wait – what possibly could be? – was certainly a fine debut. Here’s hoping it’s not a decade and a half wait for their next visit.
You can stream both sides of BTS’ new reggae single at Spinner and The Toronto Star has a quick review of Wednesday’s show to which I’d like to point out that while guys do love guitars, I noticed there was a significantly higher proportion of XX-chromosones in the audience than I’d have expected at the show. Which isn’t a complaint at all. But a guitar geek question – does anyone know how Doug’s Strat is wired? He had no pickup selector and only one volume control. My Lollapalooza pics show he stayed on the middle pickup the whole time (or at least the first three songs), maybe he got tired of accidentally knocking it out of place? I guess that makes more sense than assuming he’s got all three wired in series for triple output and the volume control actually turns up the awesome when he needs it…
Photos: Built To Spill, Attack In Black @ Lee’s Palace – July 11, 2007
Video: Built To Spill – “Conventional Wisdom” (YouTube)
MySpace: Built To Spill
MySpace: Attack In Black
So really, the best thing about this week’s Polaris Music Prize finalists announcements weren’t so much seeing which records made the cut but the fierce discussion/debate/hand wringing that inevitably followed, most of which focused mainly on the Anglo indie-rockness of the final ten. AOL Music Canada looks on the bright side (and calls the Besnard Lakes alt-country? Wha?) but eye opted to consult former Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau on the matter and he suggests that the 170 jurors that contributed to this year’s list constituted too many cooks and a watered-down meal. Similar topics are raised in Zoilus’ comments as well as some analysis of the regionalism of the jurors and finalists while CBC Radio 3′s commenters are far more fixated on the language issue and at Torontoist, they rather gauchely debate how last year’s winner spent his $20,000, prompting Final Fantasy to chime in in his own defense.
And some bits from some of the finalists – Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry talks to Drowned In Sound about the European festival circuit, JAM! and Radio Free Canuckistan talk to Miracle Fortress who, profile-wise, has arguably benefited most by the Polaris attention and The Besnard Lakes have got a new video. Grok it. Grok it now.
And (hopefully) a candidate for next year’s list, The Acorn will release Glory Hope Mountain on September 25.
Happy to see The Last Town Chorus will be opening for Camera Obscura at the Phoenix on August 26. I wasn’t planning to go to this having seen CO tour Let’s Get Out Of This Country twice already but the combination of the two acts in a very slow concert month may prove too tempting to resist.
Also just announced – former Jayhawk Mark Olson is at the El Mocambo on August 28 in support of his new solo record The Salvation Blues and legendary popsmith Nick Lowe brings his new record, At My Age, to the Mod Club on September 24.
Sea Wolf will release their debut full-length Leaves In The River on September 25.
Inside Bay Area talks to Nicole Atkins, who has pushed back the release of her new album Neptune City from July 24 to… sometime after that. I’m still trying to sort out if she’s opening for The Raveonettes at Lee’s Palace on October 14 – she’s with them in Chicago and Minneapolis the following week, but I haven’t figured out when she joins the tour. I suppose I could just ask, but where’s the fun in that?