• Built to Spill •
VoxHall (Aarhus) // May 13, 2019
It’s a sunny spring evening in Aarhus and VoxHall is open tonight to host Built to Spill, on their tour to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Keep It Like a Secret.
The concert is scheduled to start at 20:00, and a few minutes before the opening band takes the stage I enter the venue and I find it suspiciously desert: a handful of people, a few known faces and most of the attendees enjoying a drink beyond the bar that shields the floor from the golden light coming from the wide windows looking at the small river that cuts the city.
Lights dim and Oruã from Brasil start playing: dark, noisy guitars, hypnotic drums and a vocal attitude that recalls Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Listening to them was a continuous in and out of a timeless dimension, a sort of black hole inside of which there was music but on the outside time was passing very slowly: to me, the hour of their set seemed longer than the twelve years I had to wait to see Built to Spill again.
By the time Oruã set was over, the venue was a bit more crowded, but still far from the expectations: why? …and the answer is: there is another band to go!!!
A bit scared of another endless hour of wait, I lean on the barrier in front of the stage with no expectations at all.
The second band of the bill is Slam Dunk from Canada, a happy crazy quartet on their last date of the tour. Their rock is fresh and catchy, their attitude on the stage a storm of energy: jumps, jokes and messing around are the perfect entertainment to keep the crowd awake and allow the late people to fill the floor.
Once they carry out of the stage their guitars, there is nothing much to arrange to host the main act of the night, as all the three bands share the same drum kit, a few ampli on the back of the scene and… basically that is it: simple, open, essential, a setup that is so typically Built to Spill.
Doug Martsch walks in, carrying his inseparable backpack, like he is just another sound tech, as usual: he sets up his pedals, whatever he has on top of a case next to the mic and as soon as the three other touring members of the band take the stage, he starts. Not a word, but You Were Right, the eighth track of the record we are here to listen to.
It is an interesting choice, the fact of playing every evening the tracklist of the record shuffled: most of the bands, when they play an anniversary-of-some-record show, play the record top to bottom. How innovative. Despite I could understand that it is what the audience expects, it is also true that listening to very well known songs in a different order sparkles something new, a nuance that you would not have noticed otherwise, and that is the magic and the craftsmanship of a live show.
There are no frills on the stage, the lights are wisely balanced to allow the crowd to see the musicians on the stage but at the same time low enough to give a feeling of intimacy. The songs flow one after the other with no effort: Time Trap arrives and goes, I am completely lost in the extended guitar solos; The Plan, memories of a past life that come back.
Sidewalk, a string on Doug’s guitar breaks and in front of a full house, on the stage, there it is, the embodiment of humility: a man and his only guitar, no fancy backups, no frenetic helpers that come and change it because show must go on, no. The band keeps playing without looping, improvising a solo that it seems it has always been there, as part of the song, and in the meantime the string is changed, a truly genuine moment.
The main set ends with Broken Chairs, during which I cannot help taking the following note while I am both lifted and intimidated by the guitar solos: “these solos are some of the finest examples of musical architecture, precisely built to be both slender and solid like the arches in a gothic cathedral: clean, immense and strong enough to carry the weight of a heart full of the emotions”.
The band leaves the stage, but we all know they will be back because one song is missing from the setlist played so far, and it is probably the gem of the album: Carry the Zero.
It is not time to say goodbye yet, so before we get to the closing of the concert, we are treated with a handful of songs that spans through the whole production of the band, and a cover, and a stage invasion by the opening bands and finally, with dimmed lights and a slight melancholic feeling, we finally get to that carried zero that changes everything.
I am well aware those are the last minutes of a one and a half hour delight and on those parting words a hint of sadness slips under my skin — luckily, those two wild clowns of Slam Dunk frontmen show up on the stage again, transforming this intimate goodbye into a party, while a shy smile finds its way on Doug Martsch’s face.