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 Americas 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 bands 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 Spills most cohesive and strongest effort, 1999s 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 Spills 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 songs absence.
The concerts highlight came in the encore. The band played a stunning version of Velvet Waltz from the 1997 album Perfect From Now On. The songs 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 Spills performance made them seem more human. The typical stilted rock star attitude was absent during Thursdays 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-rocks most revered bands.