With more than 25 years and eight full albums under its belt, Built to Spill didn’t have any need to impress anybody. The band got up on the steps of Doe Library overlooking a casual audience on Memorial Glade for the end-of-Cal Day concert Saturday and jammed out in style.
Built to Spill’s presence was framed by the austere, imposing facade of the library building. The daunting effect of Doe’s architecture framing the venue was impressive. Here, a band at the fore of indie rock in its decades-long career found itself playing on the steps of this historic building.
As soon as members of Built to Spill emerged on the steps, with sunglasses and hat brims low over their faces, they set a much lazier, comfortable tone, playing off its audience with casual, understated flourishes of sound. All of its members wore greying beards and mouths set permanently in comfortable scowls.
Doug Martsch and his guitar solos enveloped the space, commanding the attention of his very casual audience well without demanding it. Bobbing his head to his own riffs, head bowed, Martsch mewled out his lyrics with an easy-listening quality befitting the day.
Built to Spill’s set served as background for a perfect sunny day anywhere on campus, echoing past buildings to be faintly heard across a wide range. Most of the Glade couldn’t actually see them perform over the heads in front of the immediate steps. In spite of this, Built to Spill knew they were the central focus with a lot of certainty.
Jason Albertini’s bass guitar reverberated across Memorial Glade and through Doe Library, towering above them. The acoustics seemed quite poor, though that’s to be expected. The outside air and the unnaturalness of the library steps as a soundstage contributed to the show’s poor sound quality. Still, in spite of awkward microphone volume problems and the occasional audio cut-off, Built to Spill continued on without a hitch.
Built to Spill operates best as a Jam band. The instrumentals sessions are perfect, with long and meandering jam outs with no end in sight. Guitar riffs were lazy yet well-executed, massive yet softly focused. They glinted off the sun in easy waves.
The band, all three of its members now in their mid-40s and wearing their age quite well, seemed to play most favorably with young parents, many of whom seemed quite excited to see the free set after a sweltering Cal Day. Built to Spill’s familiarity to older audiences who grew up on their music was quite charming. Men with newly purchased Berkeley Dad T-shirts grinned together, purveying the scene with unrestrained glee.
The audience was constantly in motion. A small, tightly clumped group of students huddled around the base of the library steps looking up at the show, while behind them, students, parents and kids of all ages buzzed around with the energy of the long day come to its end.
The late afternoon performance seemed perfectly suited for any listening preference, from background accompaniment to a beautiful rest on the Glade with friends or a rad front-and-center concert experience. Everyone was allowed to choose, and it didn’t seem to make one difference to Built to Spill. The band played for whoever wanted to listen, with the confidence that comes from as long a career as it has had.
As the band played its final song, Martsch had to placate the moans of his dedicated fans in the front, proclaiming simply between good-natured chuckling, “You know we’d love to play more songs, but we can’t!” The band walked off without an encore, much to the disappointment of the hardcore fans.
Built to Spill’s presence felt just as impressive as the historic buildings surrounding it. Its long and storied career lived up to the hype on its Cal Day performance, in the same way that UC Berkeley is supposed to after Cal Day for its prospective students.