Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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.”

Published in Previews

Built to Spill guitarist Brett Netson admitted that the recording process seems to be getting tougher—even though the group’s now been around for more than two decades.

“I think as the time goes on long enough, you have to obviously come up with something new—and the more you do, the more difficult it is to come up with something new,” Netson said during a recent phone interview. “It seems to be a slower process, and I don’t even know why. What you hope for as you get older is to have a more refined record—qnd ideally, that’s what happens. On a bad day, you make a crappy record. We do the best we can do.”

Built to Spill will be performing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, July 16, to support the band’s new album, Untethered Moon. It took a surprisingly long time for the album to come to fruition. Built to Spill went into the studio and recorded an album in 2012. However, frontman Doug Martsch was unsatisfied with the material; the resulting frustration led to the departure of members Brett Nelson and Scott Plouf. The remaining band pulled together and returned to the studio to record Untethered Moon.

“You could compare it to old blues records. On the older records, they didn’t have a lot of options,” Netson said about Untethered Moon. “They just sort of worked it out in real time and then just ended up with the thing that was supposed to be there. If you can do that, it’s great.”

Built to Spill has been on Warner Bros. since 1997’s Perfect From Now On. The band enjoys more creative control over the direction of its records than most bands do. Netson said the deal has been renegotiated over the years, but that it still works for them.

“We get by on a smaller budget now than we did back in the day,” he said. “We had better options, and they renegotiated the whole deal.”

Built to Spill is often cited as an influence by up-and-coming bands. Netson said it’s humbling when the band is mentioned.

“When you’re a band like us, touring across the country playing shows day in and day out, there’s really no showbiz happening,” he said. “When you’re working in the studio, you don’t have people around you telling you how great you are, and you’re just trying to do your thing. It’s really cool, and at the same time, you appreciate it. It’s very gratifying.”

When Built to Spill started in 1992, Doug Martsch said during an interview with Spin that the band would always have a revolving lineup. Netson himself was out of the band in 1994 during the recording sessions for There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, but returned for Perfect From Now On.

“Back when the band first started 23 years ago, that was the idea,” Netson said. “When Ralf Youtz and Brett Nelson started playing, that lasted for a couple of years, and that didn’t work for them. I think Doug gave up on (the revolving lineup idea), because when you get a new band, you have to teach them all of these songs. There are a lot of parts to all these songs, and the chemistry and the vocabulary of the band sort of suffers when you get new people all the time. Brett and Ralf’s departure had nothing to do with the band having a revolving door of band members; it was more they quit, and nobody really expected them to quit. With the new lineup, we had to put in 10-hour practices all week long for the next tour—and they’re incredible players.”

Netson said that the band’s members are content with where the band is now.

“I think if anything changes in the future for this band, it would only be because of money or resources,” Netson said. “Everybody likes playing together, and we have the best players you could ever hope to find.

“I guess I’m OK, too,” he added with a laugh.

Built to Spill will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, July 16, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit

Published in Previews