Photo by Jenny Price

Built to Spill, Slam Dunk, The Warm Hair

Harlow’s • Aug. 14, 2014

You get the car; I’ll get the night off. As a fan of Built to Spill for the last 20 years (an admission that ages me), and having missed them when they slid through Harlow’s last year, nothing was going to stop me from seeing Built to Spill for my first time at Harlow’s on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.

This sold-out show booked by Abstract Entertainment left no hardcore Built to Spill fans disappointed. And not one of the younger fans new to BTS could split that night denying that they’d recently been turned on to one of the true torch-carrying legends of ‘90s indie rock.

As shows typically do, the lineup kicked off with the weakest link, New York-based band The Warm Hair. After their hyperactive feat of recording 10 EPs and full length albums within the span of two years, Doug Martsch of Built to Spill “discovered” them and asked them if they’d be interested in decamping from their recording studio bender and joining Built to Spill on a nationwide tour. Of course, they consented.

However, I was wholly unimpressed by their run-of-the-mill, borderline whiny indie sound backed by just enough of a beat to keep the audience awake and somewhat engaged. The band, whose online presence indicates that they hold themselves in high regard, had cutesy nicknames: The Freebird, Juicy John Pink, Markzilla, Jules “The Plaid Prince” Sarrenceno, Johnathan Lesley Habers, Bobby The UPS Man, Bruce “La Deuce” Wildwood, Buzz “Buzzy” Lawtiny, Chuck Bangamazone, Louis Dejesus, and My Muse. Insert unimpressed emoji here.

But when the second band, Slam Dunk, started their set like a volcanic eruption, my head violently snapped from the bar to the stage. Their dreamy guitar that escalated over driving, post-punk timekeeping; cute girl and boy vocals that alternated and exploded into desperate hollers and screams; and their well-rehearsed synchronicity that teemed with youthful energy was like a rad lovechild born of Mates of State and the Violent Femmes.

I always laugh when I go back and read my drunken notes from shows. This band got me putting, “No time for notes, can’t stop dancing!” into my phone.

Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia, Slam Dunk has put out two full-length albums: The Shivers (2008) and Welcome to Miami (2013) that I have since downloaded.

It took some serious stalking to find out much about them online following the show. It is evident from their social media that they are super-goofy smartasses who are having way too much fun, but onstage they were as tight as their homie-dom. Every one of the members sings; Jordan Minkoff plays guitar, Caitlin Gallupe plays bass, Luke Postl drums and Duncan MacConnell adds a second guitar to the lineup.

The show closed with trusty old Built to Spill. I felt giddy with anticipation and—beer. Beer too.

For those of you who don’t know, Built to Spill formed in 1992 in Boise, Idaho. They are loyally followed by old fans (my aging ass included) and young hipster fans, due to their iconic, raw, yet skillful sound and Doug Martsch’s cerebral, emotional and often snarky lyrics. A classic indie band, their songs borrow from other genres, including blues, math rock, country, reggae, psychedelic rock. They have released seven acclaimed full-length studio albums, and sadly it’s been five years since the last one came out.

Built to Spill’s current members are Doug Martsch (guitar and vocals), Brett Netson (guitar), Jim Roth (guitar), Steve Gere (drums), and Jason Albertini (bass)—the latter two recently replaced drummer Scott Plouf and bassist Brett Nelson, who parted amicably.

The first album that got me hooked as a high-schooler was There’s Nothing Wrong with Love, released in ’94. It was their last effort prior to being signed by a major label (Warner Brothers), and I didn’t hear it until ’96, when it spilled into the hallway outside my big sister’s bedroom door. It stopped me dead in my tracks, and to this day, it’s still one of my go-tos when I’m feeling extra emo and need the familiarity of a great, well-loved record to be there like an old friend and take me back to a simpler time.

The highlights of the show for me were “In the Morning,” “Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else),” “Carry the Zero” and “Time Trap.” I was left clamoring to hear “Reasons” following their obligatory, highly routine, fake ending, which led to an expected going-through-the-motions encore; and when they took the stage for their customary two more songs, I was disappointed that they did not come through and play one of my all-time favorites.

Built to Spill may be loved by emotionally troubled, thoughtful types, but they ROCK. My buddy Tony later alluded to the crowd’s riotous reaction to the Built to Spill set as a “sensitive mosh pit.” We got elbowed, stepped on and at times got real sensitive, but all attendees had a great fucking time.