Show Review: Built to Spill 09.30.15
by Terence Cawley (Biology), published October 6th 2015
photos by Ben Stas (Journalism/English)
Built to Spill are well-suited to playing three-night stands like the one they just completed at Brighton Music Hall, having over two decades’ worth of material and a genuine guitar wizard in front man Doug Martsch. Their distinct sound, which uses melodic indie rock as a foundation for Martsch’s guitar squiggles and mind-blowing Young/Mascis-style solos, is a progenitor of the Pacific Northwest indie scene which birthed and inspired bands like Modest Mouse and Brand New. On Sept. 30, their second night in Allston, Built to Spill proved that their music is as electrifying as ever.
Opener Clarke and the Himselfs, from Built to Spill’s native Boise, pulled off an impressive act of musical multitasking. As Clarke fretted chords with his left hand, he played drums with his right, singing all the while. The gimmick imposed certain limitations on the one-man band; Clarke could only play power chords, while song tempos varied from moderately slow to slowly moderate. The songs themselves were nearly identical nuggets of catchy garage-pop, with even The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” sounding like a Clarke and the Himselfs song. Still, Clarke’s ability to apply his bizarre talents to the creation of actual songs, and pretty good ones at that, remains a mighty accomplishment.
Helvetia, featuring Built to Spill guitarist Jim Roth and bassist Jason Albertini, played next, with Albertini taking lead guitar and vocals. It goes to show how deep Built to Spill’s six-string talent runs that a guitarist as good as Albertini, who steered Helvetia’s tuneful ‘90s indie into darker, spacier realms with his inspired effects and solos, is relegated to bass duty. Albertini certainly made the most of his opportunity to step out from Martsch’s shadow, and Helvetia’s set effectively teased the guitar pyrotechnics to come.
Back in April, Built to Spill released their first album in six year, /Untethered Moon/, yet the band made no special effort to promote the new record. Instead, they played a career-spanning set which equally emphasized beloved classics, new material and deep cuts, with very little overlap with the previous night’s show. Martsch and the boys played at least one number from all eight of their studio albums, even throwing in K Records single “Joyride” for good measure. The mixed-bag approach proved just how consistent Built to Spill’s songwriting has remained, as there was no detectable drop in quality with the band’s more recent material. Every song featured a hummable melody and inventive guitar part from Martsch, and listeners were often treated to multiple guitar solos before the song’s end. While Martsch generously allowed his fellow guitarists Roth and Brett Netson to take a few leads, and both acquitted themselves well, there was no mistaking whose show this was. With every exhilarating twist and turn Martsch’s solos took, the enthusiastic crowd screamed its approval, and even watching Martsch’s fingers scramble across the fretboard was a blast.
While each audience member seemed to have a different favorite moment (mine was the anguished mini-epic “Stab”), Built to Spill made everyone simultaneously lose it with main set closer “Carry the Zero,” their signature song and the sort of chiming, introspective anthem Ben Gibbard would kill to have written. For the encore, the band played two songs from their proggy 1997 tour de force /Perfect from Now On/, climaxing with a dramatically backlit solo at the end of “Velvet Waltz” which made Martsch’s previous solos seem puny by comparison. It was the sort of earnest classic rock gesture which would embarrass most indie bands, but if anyone has the songwriting and instrumental chops to pull it off with aplomb, it’s Built to Spill.