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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Show Review: Built to Spill at The Pageant, Tuesday, September 29

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:36 PM

It's always been hard to believe that Built to Spill is on a major record label. The Boise, Idaho quintet -- lead by fearless, bearded singer and underrated guitar-smith Doug Martsch -- has zero flash, dresses like a bunch of small-town factory workers and apparently has no interest in pandering to its audience in any way whatsoever (i.e., no light show, no pyro, no talking, no bullshit).

But after each mini-band meeting between nearly every song on Tuesday night at the Pageant, Martsch and co. would take a breath, tune up and launch fervently into its next agreed upon number. Most bands would never get away with so much time between tunes -- and some in the crowd most likely felt slighted by the lack of showmanship or momentum. But if one viewed each song as its own little mini-concert, it's hard to argue with the amount of emotion, grit and musicianship that Built to Spill displayed. (And, in fact, the humble nature with which the band carries itself was a breath of fresh air at least to this reviewer.)

The propulsive rhythm section bounce and ripping leads of the band's second song, "Distopian Dream Girl" from 1994's There's Nothing Wrong with Love, showed that the band had no fear of diving head first into its extensive back-catalog. If anything, the song drew the attentive audience in for the hazy, smoke-filled fury that was to follow.

But the band also did a great job of hitting highlights from its upcoming album, There Is No Enemy. "Hindsight" stood out with its gritty strum and featured Martsch's signature croon, which rang true all evening as his head shook loosely and he bounced his Stratocaster violently off his thigh in time with the music.

The true appex of the evening, though, was an epic, stirring rendition of "Conventional Wisdom" from 2005's You In Reverse. Martsch seemed to take a few moments before beginning the song to review some the lead lines, as if to ensure that the maniacal guitar symphony that was to follow would be spot on. The band's slowly building dynamics through the song were near perfection and led to a transcendent three-guitar harmony break down that continued to build to new layers of loudness and density, even when it seemed that the peak had already been reached.

Martsch said about ten words the entire show. Four modest and soft spoken utterances of "Thanks" in between songs and a tender, heartfelt "Thanks for coming out" just before the final song of the main set. But words weren't really necessary -- and it was nice to see a band stand in front of a plain black backdrop, cue up the house lights, turn on its own amps, tune up its own guitars and literally let the music speak for itself. 


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