Guillermo Prieto/
Built to Spill. Credit: Guillermo Prieto/

I got to Pappy and Harriet’s early for the sold-out Built to Spill show. As I waited out back, one of the bouncers was helping a small, green-shirted hipster who took the band’s name literally: He’d spilled something unrecognizable all over his beard, shirt and shorts. “He was nice, though,” bouncer Matthew said as he returned to his post.

Some people apparently can’t handle their Pappy’s.

By 8 p.m., fans started to rush inside for the 10 p.m. show. The band was already onstage, jamming through three songs, which got some thinking the show had started early. However, it was just a long sound check that served as a preview of Built to Spill’s 16-song set.

The show marked a return to the desert for Built to Spill after performances at Coachella this year. It was not the first time Built to Spill has been to Pappy’s: The band played back in 2008 at the Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker Campout, held every year at this roadhouse. Built to Spill considers Camper Van Beethoven an influence.

Earplugs were definitely needed for the loud, muddy, bluesy and psychedelic set, which started with “Three Years Ago Today,” off Ultimate Alternative Waivers, the band’s first full-length record. It’s a great song, one which showcases the reasons why the band has continued on the Warner Bros. label for 23 years.

Improvisation and distortion filled the spaces between the adobe walls. After the second song, vocalist Doug Martsch asked for an adjustment from the soundboard. The changes made no difference to the audience, as attendees showed their appreciation by harmonizing to the shreds being put down by Martsch’s Fender Stratocaster.

Built to Spill ripped sounds through the desert air with “Distopian Dream Girl,” a classic by this band. Martsch was not talkative, except for an occasional “thanks” and, “How are you all doing tonight?” Instead, he focused on the music.

“Living Zoo”—off Untethered Moon, the band’s new record and the first since 2009—was forceful and crisp.

As I took photos near the front of the stage, I was bookended by a Latina wearing a “Don’t Feed the Hipster” shirt, and a blond who kept saying, “Get pictures of the bass player; he is hot!” Therefore, I retreated to the back of Pappy’s to watch the rest of the show, where I encountered a fan dancing feverishly to “Traces.”

As Doug Martsch walked off, he said, “Thanks a lot, everyone,” and high-fived the front row. The band came back for a brief encore, ending with “Carry the Zero.”

Avatar photo

Guillermo Prieto

Guillermo Prieto is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine. That also happens to be the location of his first concert—which cemented his love of live music. A desert dweller for a quarter-century,...