Live Review: Built To Spill, Ben Salter, The Bear Hunt

15 March 2016 | 11:35 am | Steve Bell

"How does a band this good stay so criminally unheralded?"

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Townsville-bred four-piece The Bear Hunt open proceedings with a slew of thunderous groove-based rockers, a set that's diverse and ambitious in scope and culminates in new single Tropical, which brings things to a close in a heavy-but-alluring squall.

Prodigal tunesmith Ben Salter also claims Townsville heritage in his distant past, tonight bestowing a set showcasing the heavier and more atmospheric range of his solo canon. His accomplished band — guitarist Adrian Stoyles (The Gin Club), drummer Clint Hyndman (Something For Kate) and Seja Vogel on keys — is tight and versatile and adds real heft to numbers like the spacey The Translator, the reverb-drenched Sleep Stealer and the booming Dark Forces. Salter seems to be pushing his usually expressive voice into overdrive tonight as he pummels through Vile Rat, before the gorgeous West End Girls blooms into a massive band arrangement that threatens to sweep all before it away. They seem to race to the finish with fan boy (and girl) abandon, moving through Boat Dreams, The Cat and a moving rendition of I Am Not Ashamed before climaxing with an epic, yearning take on The Stars My Destination.

For the longest time it didn't seem like we'd ever get to see Boise, Idaho's finest Built To Spill. They'd released six albums by the time they played their first-ever Australian show in late-2007, but now fortunately this is the third time they've graced The Zoo. They open with one for the trainspotters, Revolution from their 1993 debut Ultimate Alternative Wavers, followed by Living Zoo from last year's Untethered Moon, in the process highlighting the depth and consistency of their near quarter-century catalogue. They have a new rhythm section who acquit themselves well but it's all about the soaring triple-guitar attack, the vast, spacey arrangements and frontman (and mainstay) Doug Martsch's high-pitched, emotive vocals — this combined aesthetic is enthralling and engrossing and envelops you entirely, the songs demanding as much as they give. The thinly recorded Distopian Dream Girl seems massive and sinuous, Center Of The Universe meanders joyfully while the dreamlike Carry The Zero is beautiful, intricate and expansive. Songs like I Would Hurt A Fly, Sidewalk, Mess With Time and Never Be The Same are all so strong and distinctive, with the band switching occasionally from full gallop to reflective on a dime. The set finishes strongly with the anthemic Done and a monstrous version of evergreen classic Big Dipper, but they return with little ado and smash into Else before powering through a towering take on Blue Oyster Cult's gem (Don't Fear) The Reaper (complete with cowbells courtesy a rapt Hyndman) and a scintillating cover of The Smiths' How Soon Is Now? to bring things home. How does a band this good stay so criminally unheralded?