Concert: Built To Spill in Spokane, WA
Playing the 46th show of a 48 date tour, one could almost forgive Built to Spill for mailing it in. Fortunately for those in attendance, the road weary indie vets from down the interstate did nothing of the sort and delivered a spirited two hour set at the Knitting Factory in Spokane Thursday night (11/18).
Borne of a tiny insular scene in Boise, ID, nearly 20 years ago as a vehicle for lead singer/guitarist Doug Martsch's solo aspirations, Built to Spill has clearly hit its stride as a complete band. The current lineup of Martsch on vocals and guitar, Jim Roth and Brett Netson on guitar, Scott Plouff on drums, and Brett Nelson on bass had been intact for six years now.
Considering the album took a harrowing three and a half years to write and produce, songs from 2009's "There is no Enemy" sounded loose, broken in and confidant. The latest single, "Hindsight," is a stirring song recalling past regrets, single mindedness and the consequences suffered. It has the despondent jangle evocative of early R.E.M. or later Replacements.
Not as cuddly as Pavement or as noisy as Dinosaur Jr., Built to Spill explores the sonic middle ground between the two. And as with most bands of this genre, the patron saint of Neil Young hovers overhead. Martsch's nasal twang is a little sweeter and more in tune than Young's. It is also more vulnerable.
Martsch could more likely pass himself off as a high school science teacher than a singer in an alt-rock band. This is not a handsome group, nor need they be. This is a veteran band that is clearly still paying its dues. They do not put on airs. There is no elaborate stage production or lighting. Their decidedly "just got off work" demeanor reflected the flannel and boots ethos of their audience. It you're looking for spectacle you've come to the wrong place. Visually, they are about as exciting as (insert cliche here).
Well, come to think of it, there was this cute dreadlocked hippie girl who drunkenly swayed like a northern pine in a gale force wind. She was finally felled by the ax of one too many and assumed a comfortable supine position on the floor in front of the stage. That was quite entertaining.
There is one reason above all others to see Built to Spill: Guitars. Roth and Netson are a two-headed monster. They, along with Martsch, swirl and wind around one another while skillfully staying out or each others way. Even during the extended solo fuzz freakouts, they stay in their lanes beautifully. Each adds his own color of sound via an endless array of effects in a manner reminiscent of Radiohead's brilliant trio of Jonny Greenwood, Thom Yorke and Ed O'Brien. Few bands sport the technical ability required to pull this off without the house mix sounding like a pillowcase stuffed with mashed potatoes. The proficient rhythm section of Nelson and Plouff build a sturdy wall for the all that guitar shimmer to reflect off of.
Built to Spill is the musical teddy bear that does not hug you back. Their music delivers melancholy and comfort, but the emotional connection is up to you. They'll give you a blanket, but they won't share the bed with you.
It is cerebral music tied to a Northwestern geography. This is music of long dark winters, alcohol, loneliness and comfort food. These are anthems that you don't pump your fist in the air to. These are songs that yearn, but don't trust you enough to fill that yearning.
Built to Spill heads off next month to play six shows in Australia.
29 - Sydney, Australia - Metro
30 - Glenworth Valley, Australia - Peats Ridge Festival
31 - Phillip Island, Australia -Pyramid Rock Festival
1 - Melbourne, Australia - Corner Hotel
2 - Brisbane, Australia - The Zoo
4 - Perth, Australia - Rosemount Hotel