By: Carson Redden
“Well give it up baby, I’m the one you need. I’m a dying breed,” sang Jordan Minkoff, as he and the rest of Victoria band Slam Dunk sprung onto the stage amidst a burst of smoke. The Victoria-based band and Boise, Idaho trio Finn Riggins opened for indie legends Built to Spill on Wednesday, February 5 at the new Sugar Nightclub, indicating that indie rock in this city is far from endangered.
Built to Spill has been an integral member of indie rock culture since the early ‘90s, frequently mentioned alongside such acts as Pavement and Teenage Fanclub. Fans were delighted for the band’s first appearance in Victoria since 2007.
“We’re really psyched to be back in Victoria,” said Doug Martsch, vocalist and guitarist for the Boise-based band, echoing the sentiment of a crowd ecstatic to receive them.
This glowing reception continued to escalate as Built to Spill played through a set list from the band’s extensive catalog, including songs from their most recent album, 2009’s There Is No Enemy. A few covers and some of Martsch’s solo work were thrown into the mix, and a lively rendition of “Heart (Things Never Shared)” from Martsch’s album Now You Know turned the crowd into a raucous, swaying choir. The energy present within the crowd could be traced to Martsch, who shook rhythmically, at times appearing to convulse while singing. The crowd continued to preserve the excited atmosphere in the venue, with roars of approval drowning out what little Martsch had to say in between songs.
Such is the case when a band plays to an audience that’s familiar with the group’s entire discography. When a band member spoke, it was to inform the audience of a departure from their own material. For a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Ashtray Heart,” guitarist Brett Netson took up the cowbell and conducted his bandmates with a drumstick. It would not be the only time he would brandish the notable percussion piece in the show—the clunk of the cowbell continued through a half-hour encore that began with a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Martsch’s red Stratocaster tore into the iconic opening arpeggios, and the house lights did not come up until well after midnight, causing the audience to cry for a second encore. Though they were denied this request, the numerous high fives, expletives and stupefied grins gave the impression that they were satisfied.
The same red guitar on stage and shit-eating grins amongst the crowd were present from the beginning of Slam Dunk’s opening set. A broken guitar string resulted from the first few chords of “Dying Breed,” and Doug Martsch loaned the one guitar he’s played for decades as a substitute for Slam Dunk until the string was changed.
Other technical issues were to follow: “Is the amp broken again?” said someone on stage, and a second later the band surged back into action, filling the room with a driving tenor sax line, and frantic melodic yells that rivaled those of Dave Grohl and Isaac Brock.
This rambunctious vibe was carried through the rest of the set. Luke Postl hunkered down at the drums in a posture that genuinely resembled Animal’s from The Muppets, and provided a thundering background to “Horse Bumper”—a track featured on the Rolling Stone website at the end of January. Synchronized squeals from the singers, guitars and sax punctuated the middle of “Can’t Stand It,” another track from Slam Dunk’s Welcome to Miami, released November 2012.
Humour and spontaneity are integral to a Slam Dunk set. At one point Minkoff thanked Built to Spill for playing their “CD-release show,” and bassist Caitlin Gallupe proudly claimed the title of “The Ripest Band In Canada,” for Slam Dunk, though with the elevated temperature within the crowd, it’s hard to say whether the odor in the club was wafting solely from the stage.
“Everything we do is a joke, so don’t quote us,” said Postl, but however strongly they smell, Doug Martsch said they were awesome while watching their set from the front row, and the rest of the crowd seemed to agree, collectively absorbing the energy the band spewed forth from the stage.
Finn Riggins had a tricky spot in the lineup to fill, falling between the local favourite and indie veterans, but they did so effectively, saturating the room with power chords layered among keyboard pop hooks. The trio, also from Boise, have been touring with Built to Spill since the end of January, and released a record in 2009, titled VS Wilderness.
The new Sugar Nightclub was host to 400 or so fans that night. Though attempts at moshing were initially stopped by the bouncers, their efforts were in vain by the end of the show, with the majority of the floor occupied by a unified mass of bodies bouncing off one another. Nevertheless, the venue remained unscathed by night’s end, and Minkoff even commented on Sugar’s new bathrooms and their excess of shiny surfaces, suggesting the crowd should go “even if you don’t have to go.” The same could be said of future shows for all of the artists.