By this point in their career, guitar hero stalwarts Built to Spill have carved out a reputation for being a jam band for people who don’t like jam bands. Yet in concert, there’s not a lot of jamminess about them. Sure, the triple-guitar attack of BTS has a way of elevating what should be nice little 3-minute rock songs into 8-minute mini rock operas, but like operas, the songs have distinct sections, movements, crescendos, and—most importantly—clear end points. After all, the most insidious part of jam bands is the endless noodling. With Built to Spill, yeah, you’re going to get about 5 songs an hour, but for the most part, if you’ve seen them before, there won’t be a lot of unwelcome surprises of the endless-jamming variety.
That said, they sold-out crowd at Irving Plaza certainly seemed like a jam-band crowd, judging by the amount of awkward dancing and pot smoking. Plus, BTS obliged the audience with a setlist of mostly older tracks, after opening with the now-standard “Goin’ Against Your Mind.” The only new wrinkles were a trio of covers. First was guitarist Brett Netson singing lead on Captain Beefheart’s “Abba Zabba, then the encore opened with two newish BTS covers, Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” and The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now.” The latter’s delay-heavy guitar sounded a perfect fit for BTS, though Doug Martsch’s strained high-pitch croon would not remind anyone of Morrissey.
Built to Spill are at an odd place in their careers at the moment: An indie-rock band that’s still on a major label who haven’t released a record since 2009. Material for a new album was recorded then scrapped. And the rhythm section of Brett Nelson and Scout Plouf was replaced with new blood. They seem to be content touring for the sake of touring (or by appearances, playing shows while on break from their epic, decade-long camping trip). But if the crowd at Irving Plaza was any indication, they don’t need to hurry to record that next album. If BTS are less than perfect from now on, there’s nothing wrong with loving that.