Concert review: Built to Spill connects with the Downtown scene in its Vegas return

Martsch (left) and his mates make new friends Downtown.
Photo: Bill Hughes

Three and a half stars

Built to Spill April 20, Bunkhouse Saloon

For a band that recently went six years between Vegas visits, Built to Spill suddenly seems to have fallen in love with our town—more specifically, Downtown. On Monday, members of Boise’s longtime indie-rock troupe shopped at brand new 11th Street Records and scoped out its adjacent recording studio before getting onstage for the group’s second sold-out night at the Bunkhouse in seven months.

Last August, Built to Spill headlined the very first show at the relaunched Downtown music hub, and the occasion overshadowed the performance, which was enjoyable but marred by sound issues and leader Doug Martsch’s road-worn voice. This time, the five-piece put together a set that seemed to speak of a new connection, between a city left off tour routes for too long and a band appreciative of its audience’s evident exuberance.

The band’s three-guitar array rang out forcefully and cleanly on old BTS tunes like “Distopian Dream Girl” (the one with the lyrics that go, “My stepfather looks just like David Bowie/But he hates David Bowie”), The Halo Benders’ “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain” (played, oddly, for the second straight Bunkhouse show) and “Carry the Zero,” the band’s best-known song. Martsch’s vocals started out strained again but improved over the hour and 40 minutes, to the point where a cover of Michael Hurley’s twangy (and crude) “Slurf Song” and the band’s own “Liar” felt pretty perfect.

Even better were a trio of tunes off released-this-week album Untethered Moon, Built to Spill’s first since 2009. “Living Zoo” and “Never Be the Same” crackled with the intensity fresh material tends to coax from a veteran band, and “When I’m Blind” saw Martsch—stoic-faced even as he shredded—and fellow guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth stretching out during a massive instrumental jam while drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini coolly kept time behind them.

Even that bit of brilliance got trumped by the encore, a near-20-minute version of “Randy Described Eternity” that grew into something like Kraut-rock, throbbing and expanding to maintain the crowd’s rapt attention. If, somehow, it turns out to be the last Vegas sees of Built to Spill, it couldn’t have been a better send-off, though judging from Monday’s vibe, a quick return seems far more likely.


"In Your Mind"

"In the Morning"

"Distopian Dream Girl"

"Living Zoo"

"Virginia Reel Around the Fountain" (The Halo Benders)


"Trimmed and Burning"



"When I'm Blind"

"Slurf Song" (Michael Hurley)

"Never Be the Same"

"Big Dipper"

"Carry the Zero"


"Randy Described Eternity"

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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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