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
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
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
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
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.