Built to Spill / Finn Riggins Sugar Nightclub, Victoria, BC, February 5

Built to Spill / Finn Riggins Sugar Nightclub, Victoria, BC, February 5
Photo: Jason Schreurs
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One of the great things about seeing indie/alt-rock veterans Built to Spill live is they give you the feeling you're seeing them in way too small of a venue. Like they should be up on a huge outdoor-venue stage hammering away at the gods, and you've happened to catch them warming up at a smaller club. In this case, a packed Victoria nightclub on a Tuesday night was the seemingly humble backdrop for one of the scene's most uncompromising bands.

Fellow Boise, ID indie rockers Finn Riggins warmed up the jacked crowd with some interesting keyboard- and piano-fuelled '90s rock, complete with grungy haircuts. This three-piece sounded exactly what you'd imagine a band from Idaho sounding like: loud, unassuming and a bit odd. (There's a potato joke in here somewhere.)

Idahoan Doug Martsch and his Built to Spill men started their set suitably with "The First Song," off their 1993 debut album, Ultimate Alternative Wavers. The five-piece continued to delve deep into their back catalogue during a 90-minute-plus set, which pleased the mostly retro crowd to no end.

While Martsch was in fine form with his head-wagging, wailing vocal style and idiot-savant stage presence, it was longtime guitarist Brett Netson who was the most interesting to watch. Netson's friendly-homeless-guy-who-camps-out-behind-your-dumpster look was endearing enough, but watching him command his dozen or more guitar pedals (all bolted to a piece of plywood) was akin to watching an alchemist concoct his latest potion in the lab. When he put down his fuzz-blaster and picked up a cowbell for a quirky rendition of Captain Beefheart's "Abba Zabba," you just wanted to offer to buy him lunch and hear his life story.

The rest of the band, including third guitarist Jim Roth and new young-pup rhythm section Steve Gere and Jason Albertini, also had some cover-song tricks that would surface in a well-deserved four-song encore.

First, it was a distorted, blissed-out version of Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," stretched out in Built to Spill's signature slacker-rock style. Then, as the perfect companion piece to Martsch's '90s ultimate grunge fuck-you, his old band Treepeople's piss-take on the Smith's "Big Mouth Strikes Again," Built to Spill slipped into a jaw-dropping cover of "How Soon Is Now?" and somehow, someway, made it their own throbbed-out beast.

Really, the new song that ended the set (working title "Living Zoo") was merely an aside for another victorious Built to Spill rock fest.