Built to Spill Leaves Phoenix Crowds Happy and Smiling Over the Weekend

Built to Spill is a perplexing band. They can lull an audience into a happy trance as well as any band I've ever seen.

They are great. Yes. There is no denying their talent and their fingers are definitely nimble, but watching them two days in a row sort of felt like I was attending a chess tournament played only by masters. Unless you are really into chess, it's going to start feeling like you've seen it all before.

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The Crescent Ballroom show on Friday night was really well attended by Phoenix's prettiest indie rock fans. One of the great points of local pride, at least for me, is how much better shows like Built to Spill's second trip to the Crescent in eleven months are attended these days. Call me old and jaded, but it has often seemed bands like Built to Spill always drew the same 100 or so people, who, like a comfortable old sweater, just seemed to fit perfectly and never changed. Those days are over.

The crowd was diverse and a great many of them arrived early enough to see opening act,Whispering Wires play a fantastic set that reminded me of noisier, sloppier (in a delightfully good way), and meaner version of Superchunk. I will look for the next valley show from this cool new(ish) Tucson band. Guitarist (as listed on Facebook) Dirk Wednesday has an interesting style and his vocals blend with the band's skronky distortion beautifully. Drummist (another clever term from the band's Facebook page) Tamborindo is fun to watch and pretty spot on with his timing and tempos.

Braided Waves, who is doing a leg of this tour with Built to Spill was a tad underwhelming. I think this band has an identity crisis, which is probably still okay as they seemed like a fairly new band. Not much in the way of stage presence and the songs were, well, of the new indie rock variety of shoegaze (or maybe even eyelid gaze). Their bass player was too busy (and looked a little like Garth from Wayne's World) much of the time, which was a tad disconcerting and the songs were a mix of Neil Young cast-offs and Bon Iver. They did rock it up a bit towards the latter half of their set, but not a single one of the Braided Waves (from Idaho) seemed comfortable on stage.

The stage presence war was clearly won by Whispering Wires on this evening. While Built to Spill are fantastic musicians, they are zero fun to watch. Leader Doug Martsch comes from the Black Francis school of audience interaction, which means the most you are typically going to get from him is "Thank you." Again, though, there is nothing wrong with this if you are there to appreciate the songs themselves, as well as the killer three-guitar attack.

The band itself is really, really good. They have many songs that border on being classic rock anthems and are sonically huge, but again, the lack of diversity from the vocals holds them back from being truly amazing. Martsch weaves a good tale, though, and even though he is a man of little stage action, watching him play guitar is good, clean fun. There wasn't a tremendous amount of difference between the set on Friday night at the Crescent and their Record Store Day appearance at the 19th Avenue and Camelback Zia Records on Saturday afternoon, but each crowd seemed to eat up everything Built to Spill dished out and their were smiles all around.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon