It’s a hot summer night downtown, and I’m tucked away inside a hidden jazz club …
The sky was spotted with clouds and filled with sunshine as the heat of the summer said farewell and the expansive view of Central Oregon’s Les Schwab Amphitheater brought in a brisk chill for the last show of the summer in Bend.
Built to Spill and Modest Mouse have been planting seeds in the fertile soil of the northwest independent rock n roll scene since the early 1990’s. Both bands have worked very vigilantly over the past twenty plus years to maintain creative control over their music while working with major record labels such as Warner Bros. (Built to Spill) and Epic (Modest Mouse). Both groups have established a loyal fan base since the 90’s with many overlapping listeners and new crops of young fans jumping on board for the first time. It makes perfect sense for these two to converge and celebrate the end of summer together after so many years of hard work, dedication and blossoming successes in the rock n roll scene.
The very large stage at the Les Schwab Amphitheater was nearly filled to the brim with drumsets and instruments from both bands. Sauntering in very casually from the left of the stage was a man dressed in a black hoodie, beanie and wearing a backpack, that looked like he had just ended a long train hopping journey, but for those of us that knew, this was Doug Martsch (lead guitar/vocals) of Built to Spill. When the band started back in 1992 Martsch had planned to intentionally change members for every album leaving himself as the only permanent member. This did not carry out but there have been many different members that have contributed, disappeared, reappeared, and rocked throughout the years. The band recorded their most recent full length album “Untethered Moon,” in 2015 with the trio consisting of Martsch, Jason Albertini (bass) and Stephen Gere (drums) who joined the band permanently in 2012. Since the latter half of 2015 when long time, original member since 1992, Brett Netson (bass/guitar) and guitarist since 2004, Jim Roth left the group Built to Spill has been touring as a three piece and although Martsch jumps back and forth from rhythm and lead guitar parts, quite nicely by the way, the trio is thriving.
Built to Spill came out with a classic set that was performed with precision and deep emotion as the third song of the set “Untrustable (part 2),” off of their 1997 release, “Perfect From Now On,” rang out in cathartic beauty as the words “I know you… wouldn’t be the way you feel if you could choose… what are you going to do? When you feel the darkness shining through… what are you going to do?” coursed through our spirits provoking goosebumps and the hairs on our necks to stand straight up. The set continued in mostly classic succession as the only song performed off of “Untethered Moon,” “Some Other Song,” reminded us that they are still killing it. Quite a few songs off of “Keep it Like a Secret,” their 1999 release like “Else,” “Time Trap,” “The Plan,” and “Carry the Zero,” contributed to the nostalgic set that was impressively performed by the legendary Boise Idaho indie rock pioneers.
The lull between sets was starting to raise a sense of impatience as the crowd started to scream for Isaac Brock (guitar/banjo/lead vocals) and chant the name of the headlining band “Modest Mouse.” The stage hands seemed to be having difficulties with various instruments that were packed into this full fledged festival sized stage. The spot that was obviously plotted out for Brock consisted of two small mics on top of each other on the right of the mic stand and one gold microphone to his left, one weathered and adequately used banjo, one nicer looking banjo that held the perturbed attention of the stage hands up for longer than intended, one acoustic guitar and one electric guitar. The rest of the stage consisted of three keyboards, one viola, one fiddle one bass guitar, one electric guitar, one upright bass, one full drum set, another multiple drum percussion set up with electronic drums, a tuba, a trumpet, one pump organ and a plethora of amplifiers and microphones. The commercial success that these guys have gained is abundantly apparent when looking at the stage preparation, even when no musicians were yet present.
The crowd was getting antsy as the time passed without a musician in site and when the lights dimmed and the overbearing sound of flies buzzing and swarming came over the massive pa system the crowd roared in anticipation only to have to deal with the sound of flies and the anticipation for a few minutes longer. As Isaac Brock finally appeared on stage slightly swaying and feeling loose he addressed the crowd by saying, “Sorry guys, I showed up late,” with a crooked smile across his face. It’s hard to tell what is going on in this twisted man’s mind as he periodically stares off into the abyss.
The lineup was in full force as original “MM,” drummer Jeremiah Green, Tom Peloso (upright bass/horns/keyboards/bass/vocals/fiddle) who has been with the band since 2003, Jim Fairchild (guitar/vocals/pump organ) since 2009, Russell Higbee (bass, guitar, pump organ) since 2012, Lisa Molinaro (viola/vocals/keyboards) since 2011, Ben Massarella (percussion/effects) since 2014 and Davey Brozowski (percussion/keyboards) since 2012 nearly overflowed the stage as these interchangeable musicians locked into each others frequency and synced up in the musical groove in an almost continuous succession.
The set started with the title track off of their most recent 2015 release “Strangers to Ourselves,” and was quickly followed by their classic set opener off of their 2000 release, “The Moon and Antarctica,” “3rd Planet.” The set morphed from album to album in a fairly balanced manner as songs like “Bury me With It,” “The Devil’s Workday,” “Satin in a Coffin,” and of course the second song of the encore that reverberated their massive commercial success and shut down the last show of the season in Bend, “Float On,” from their 2004 release,”Good News For People Who Love Bad News” roared out in visceral energy and tortured intellect. Songs like, “Grey Ice Water,” and “Whenever You Breathe Out I Breathe In,” were represented from the 1999 collection, “Building Nothing Out of Something,” and gems from their most recent to their earliest were visited. “Well I didn’t notice but the people really noticed that they really didn’t want us around… so we all just opened up our mouths and walked through this town,” screamed out in a burst of belligerent yet funky intensity as “Fly Trapped in a Jar,” from the 2007 release, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” tore the evening apart at the seams.
The technical difficulties persisted throughout the set as lead man Brock’s guitar was out of tune for a majority of the songs and his equipment kept buzzing and shorting out. The entire ensemble carried this show all the way through and for the songs that Brock was in tune for they killed.
This show included classic and legendary aspects of the two independent rock groups from the northwest that started so much and paved the way for what the scene has become today. To see these two bands play at the same show at the end of such an amazing summer in the northwest music scene was a revelation to the evolution of independent rock and roll and a sign that it is thriving with no end in sight.