Boise, Idaho, rockers Built to Spill released their fan-favorite album Keep It Like a Secretsome 20 years ago, in 1999, which is why Doug Martsch, the maestro behind the band, is currently touring the album in celebration of the landmark anniversary. Hey, 20 years is a long time for a rock band. Built To Spill made a stop in Memphis at Overton Square’s Lafayette’s Music Room on Tuesday, July 9th, and Martsch proved that his riffs and all-along-the-neck runs are as crisp and fresh today as they were 20 years ago. One thing, however, was notably different. Martsch was supported, not by the usual cast of bearded and Fender-wielding Idahoans, but by rock trio ORUÃ, hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who pulled double duty as both members of Built to Spill and the opening band. And, to put it simply, they brought the house down.
But first, some history: Martsch is Built to Spill. His idiosyncratic playing style, penchant for Fender gear, trademark high-and-lonesome vocals, and long instrumental digressions form the backbone of the band’s identity. What’s more, Martsch has stated in many interviews that his original plan for the band was to employ a constantly rotating cast of support musicians as his backing band. However, sometime between There’s Nothing Wrong With Love (1994) and Keep It Like a Secret, a permanent lineup began to coalesce — at least until 2015’s Untethered Moon brought in new members. Those members were absent Tuesday night, but their shoes were filled admirably by ORUÃ.
The first opening act was keyboard player/comedian Wet Face, whose arpeggiated piano runs and electronic beats were a vehicle for his charismatic antics and rapid-fire witticisms. Wet Face is worth checking out, but ORUÃ, who played next, was the break-out star of the evening.
Don’t get me wrong — Built to Spill put on a wonderful show as they played Keep It Like a Secret in its entirety, albeit out of sequence and with welcome additions from other albums. ("Time Trap" and "Broken Chairs" were highlights, as was "I Would Hurt a Fly" from Perfect From Now On.) But the boys from Brazil surprised me. I had no idea what to expect, so my defenses were nonexistent, leaving me open to be obliterated (in the best possible way) by their psychedelic, jazz-influenced onslaught. They put me in mind of California-based party rockers Oh Sees (formerly Thee Oh Sees), but any comparison fails to do ORUÃ justice. Including myself, there were three WEVL DJs present at last night’s show, and we all shared one takeaway: “This band is incredible! What was their name again? Could you understand them?”
The vocalist sang in a high lilt, in what I assume was Portuguese. Language barrier or no, I was transported. Their set passed by all too briefly, making Built to Spill’s — by any reckoning the main course — feel like dessert. Adding to the impressive feat of their live show, the members of ORUÃ (sans drummer, who, I assume was icing himself down after his set) played a game of musical chairs with their instruments when it came time for Martsch to take the stage. The Brazilian band’s guitarist and vocalist climbed behind the drum kit; their bassist proved himself to be equally proficient with guitar and glass slide guitar.
All in all, the concert, from start to finish, was a treat. And yes, Built to Spill still rocks pretty dang hard.