Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., and the Meat Puppets

A Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill lineup may well have appeared on countless “dream bill” lists compiled by music nerds of all kinds, making last night’s 90’s throwback just, wow. Fresh from having done so for the ATP festival, BTS were there to perform their orgasmic 1997 album Perfect From Now On, whose complex, guitar driven gems certainly make appearances at shows but never dominate the set. Too loyal a fan and obsessed with this album in particular to be dismayed by the cringe-worthy Terminal 5, I mashed my way into the front rows early on and quickly forgot all location concerns. It seemed the order of players was interchangeable as devoted fans rocked out to the three classic groups as if they’d been waiting for this evening for their whole (post elementary school) lives. Though, there were a whole lot of teeny-boppers in the crowd and after pondering for a moment how on earth they’d come to be here, I realized it was excellent that the young truly appreciated rock. But I was a bit thrown off by the drunken 15-year-old next to me who kept screaming “I love you Doug” and lurching around while explaining to her friend how much she loved these guys. High school must be fun for her.

Doug Martsch and the other BTS’ers didn’t appear to be particularly hyped about the whole affair, but these aren’t a bunch known for their outgoing demeanors. The transitions from song to song weren’t smooth or calculated, but each number was played true to form and at full intensity, which is saying a lot given the three guitar parts and shifting tempos. Engaging performers or not, it was all about the music, which I don’t need to say twice was fantastic. A special treat was the inclusion of a live cello and piano player to render the album’s orchestrated parts, and through unexplainable, relentless crowd hollering in his favor (“We love the cello!”, “I love you cello!”), this guy stared at Doug and the others as he drank it all in, beaming and mouthing the lyrics. After completing Perfect From Now On, they immediately launched into You In Reverse’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” followed by an encore of “Car” and “Virginia Reel Around The Fountain” off the Halo Bender’s The Rebels Not In. This surprising treat soon became an extended crazy jamout with members of the first two bands skipping onto the stage to join the fun. Instruments were traded, extra sets of drums sticks were utilized, and 90’s rock geeks were delivered their aforementioned soiled panties. My ears are still ringing…but with joy.

Most photos by Colin Colfer

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Calexico

Homesickness ran high at last night’s Calexico show as it quickly became clear that I was not the only member of the audience from Tucson. Hoots and hollers of T-town pride sprang from all corners as the band played a particularly enthusiastic set, due in part perhaps to their just having come from a show at home after a stint in the UK. Sound quality and beer price issues aside, Webster Hall actually provided quite the nice space this time ‘round. Their sparkly backdrop evoked a still summer night in a town famous for its lack of light pollution and resulting star visibility, bringing a bit of the ‘ol Southwest to our harsh Metropolis. Joey Burns’ boyish vocals seemed to drip with a general warmth as he expertly presented newer songs and added flourishes to classic favorites.

Indeed, he and Calexico’s other members slid through their fantastic set with a healthy sampling from mostly Feast of Wire, Garden Ruin, and the very recently released Carried to Dust. John Convertino seemed to float among the backdrop on his little drum platform as he alternated between spooky, thoughtful accompaniments and beat-driven rockers. Jacob Valenzuela shook a fervent maraca and sung out mariachi yelps that were so perfect they sounded pre-recorded, and let’s not forget his fine trumpet playing. Valenzuela took vocal lead for the new “Inspiración” that carries the signature Calexico sound while adding a slinky dance number feel despite its rather sad lyrics. Also off Carried to Dust, “Two Silver Trees” was quite strong live, with its careful blend of Southwest and Far East. The audience seemed to particularly enjoy favorites like “Sunken Waltz” and “Across The Wire,” songs that are immediately catchy and build to climaxes that really let the band wail. Sure I may be a bit biased, but let me honestly say that these guys are awesome.

Big Bang TV

Brooklyn’s Big Bang TV are an engaging bunch not simply thanks to the usual attention-grabbers, say, tunes that get the head bobbing or a set of musicians clearly delighted to be playing. This gang certainly succeeds in those tasks, but the real kicker is the refreshing uniqueness in their utilization of disparate musical elements to form a pleasing whole. Matt Brehony plays a skillful guitar part as his versatile voice booms through moments of quirky narration or smoldering singer/songwriter expression. He’s often accompanied vocally by Andrea Hendrickson, who plays a sharp keyboard as she dips between soft alto and an almost operatic trill. A wining pair to be sure, their indie rock leanings are brought to an entirely new place by bass/turntable/laptop/everythingist Scott Neagle’s myriad contributions. His parts had him frantically switching instruments any number of times per song, bringing a combination Radiohead/Hot Chip factor to the tunes without overpowering his cohorts. Joseph Sinopoli rounds it all out by using an electronic drum pad in addition to his regular acoustic kit, and in the end these many competing sounds make for tracks that are just loaded.

Pleasing melody is always present in BBTV’s songs, while the bonus elements dancing in and around it lend idiosyncrasy to form, as do the many changes in tempo and phrasing. On this evening they played the four tracks off their Send/Receive EP and a healthy handful of additional songs, some of which gave more focus to Hendrickson’s vocal talents. Her commanding lead among zippy electronics and quick guitar make for tunes that are convincingly serious and playful at the same time. A standout oldie was the lovely “Gladys” that slowly builds upon a quite tuneful phrase until it buzzes with fullness and emotion. “Send/Receive” is equally engaging though much more of a rocker with its dancing, teasing guitar and horror film franticness. These guys truly embody the idea of “something for everyone” as they mash their widely varying skills into downright catchy songs. And hey, if you’re not convinced yet, let me point out that their T-shirts feature Michael Keaton of motion picture fame. Who doesn’t like the guy from Multiplicity?

Photos by Colin Colfer