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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Built to Spill keeps it real

By Eric Tvedt
Contributing Writers

Friday, May 13, 2005

Over the past decade, Built to Spill has established a reputation as one of the most creative and exciting bands to emerge from the Northwest. Minneapolis hosted the indie-rock legends this past Thursday, May 5 at the infamous First Avenue Mainroom.

Formed in 1992 in Boise, Id., Built to Spill was and still remains the brainchild of vocalist and guitarist Doug Martsch. The band built their reputation as one of America’s most forward-thinking bands by fusing shoegazing guitar drone, glittery pop and searing rock jams.

A string of critically lauded albums and constant touring pushed Built to Spill to the top of the indie-rock heap. While critical success and a devoted fanbase are desirable attributes for any artist, the band’s humility and complete lack of pretension make them one of the most enjoyable acts touring today.

Martsch, bassist Brett Nelson, drummer Scott Plouf and guest guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson climbed on stage at 8 p.m., casually approaching their instruments and preparing to deliver an impressive live performance. `All five band members were dressed in dingy oversized t-shirts and tapered Levi jeans, staples of early 90s fashion. The brightest spotlight was on the balding and heavily bearded Doug Martsch, who resembled a guitar-wielding version of Harry, the famous TV sasquatch.

The band quickly tore into the fuzzy “Strange,” the first track of their most recent album, Ancient Melodies of the Future. However, the show truly took off with the first powerful chord of “The Plan,” the opener to Built to Spill’s most cohesive and strongest effort, 1999’s Keep It Like A Secret. The fast-paced rocker “Sidewalk” showcased the triple guitar attack of Martsch, Netson, and Ross.

Built to Spill continued to delight the audience by debuting material from their as-of-yet untitled album, set for release early this Fall. The new material was mixed in with old favorites including the infectious “Distopian Dream Girl,” “Stop the Show,” and the progressive “I Would Hurt A Fly.” While “Car,” Built to Spill’s most recognizable and well-known song, was left out of the set-list, no audience member went home disappointed; the show was strong despite the popular song’s absence.

The concert’s highlight came in the encore. The band played a stunning version of “Velvet Waltz” from the 1997 album Perfect From Now On. The song’s hypnotizing shuffle sprawled on for nearly fifteen minutes, proving once and for all that jamming and improvisation are not only for dreadlocks and Birkenstocks, but for indie rockers as well.

While watching the band at First Avenue was incredible to say the least, the most valuable experience I gained by seeing Built to Spill was an exposure to their down-to-earth attitude.

After most concerts, fans leave a venue feeling like the artists are “larger than life” figures who are beyond the reach of mere mortals.

However, something about Built to Spill’s performance made them seem more human. The typical stilted rock star attitude was absent during Thursday’s performance. Built to Spill played their music the way they did 15 years ago: with honesty, sincerity and passion. If the band continues to perform as well as they did at First Avenue this past Thursday, Martsch and company will remain one of indie-rock’s most revered bands.

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