say your piece
155 30 OCTOBER 2003
Under Construction:
Built to Spill Performance Demonstrates an Active Evolution
By Jamie Gadette

o one really noticed when Doug Martsch took the stage at Brick’s on Friday night. Audience members assumed that the bassist sitting patiently on a revolving stool was simply a different musician bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Built to Spill frontman. Certainly all of the physical markings were present—scruffy face with a five o’ clock shadow, frumpy Cosby sweater, a beanie pulled back slightly to reveal a receding hairline…yet it just didn’t seem fitting for a legendary rocker to appear without an uproar. But Martsch isn’t a flashy star. In fact, he’s not even a performer—he’s an artisan completely absorbed in his craft.

Given that the music is his primary focus, it’s not so surprising that devoted fans overlooked Martsch. Built to Spill is not constructed around distinct public personas. Since forming in 1992, the Boise-based, indie-rock band has featured an ever-changing lineup. Usually such routine shifting is indicative of intragroup feuding, but Friday’s show demonstrated not only kinship among present members, but also a tight connection between all of the night’s touring acts.

North American Tri-Dubs kicked things off, setting the tone for subsequently copped Neil Young-styled musings.

Second openers The Delusions, a Seattle-based band with a strong hometown following, ushered in the demure Martsch to accompany them.

He slid on stage, strapped to a flimsy backpack, waiting patiently for the others to begin. After a jarring start of overpowering drums, The Delusions hit an easy stride. All members, looking as though they’d just crawled out of their van after three days on the road, paid strict attention to the task at hand. They wasted no time exchanging pleasantries with the crowd, opting instead to reach out with increasingly stellar tone and a broad range of inventive effects.

As the energy intensified, so awoke audience awareness. That Martsch look-alike was truly the real deal. A few fans chose to call attention to his presence by repeatedly shouting his name, but the majority remained fixated on the action. Mostly they marveled at how lines like “Flowers in the winter/Flowers in the summer” could seem not sappy, but endearing. It helped that shredding slide guitar accompanied the blossom imagery. Toward the end, the band broke out the keys to send cascading melodies between sharp drums and thick bass. It sounded like Christmas in stereo.

The Delusions’ lead guitarist stuck around after his set to join current Built to Spill members Brett Nelson (bass) and Scott Plouf (drums) along with Martsch, who returned, nonchalant and expressionless, wielding a guitar emblazoned with the name “BEN.” The strangely bedecked musical object fits in perfectly among the others—an array of impressively used instruments in various states of decay. The sounds emitted from each one, however, were far from shabby. Impeccable tone carried songs through decidedly nonlinear chord progressions.
Built to Spill’s claim to fame is an ability to alter traditional rock and roll without completely obscuring initial origins. This characteristic allows for a striking balance between foreign and familiar territory.

At Brick’s, Martsch and friends found common ground with the crowd by pulling on old favorites. The rarely played “Car,” a sweet number reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House,” sent fans into a frenzy. “You Were Right,” a collection of well-known rock lyrics strung together in a plaintive lament, also evoked a strong response. Many accompanied Martsch’s voice as he cried, “You were right when you said manic depression’s a frustrating mess/You were right when you said a hard rain’s gonna fall…you were wrong when you said everything’s gonna be alright.” The melancholy nature of the song complemented Martsch’s own pensive demeanor. The only times he cracked a smile came in the midst of electric harmonies and brilliant solos.

The Delusions’ lead vocalist Dave Keppel jumped on deck to aid in the finale—an extended jam ripe with rippling dub. The reggae vibe persisted into the encore, which put a definite Built to Spill flavor on The Clash’s “White Man in Hammersmith Palais.”

While many audience members failed to recognize the socially and politically charged song, the source of lyrics was irrelevant. Fans were simply grateful for the additional time spent with a band that refuses to strike a pose.

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