Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Built to Spill stay the course at First Avenue

Built to Spill. Photos by Maddy Fox for MPR.

The soundtrack to endless winter comes in the form of Built to Spill. Averse to flashy, lead singer Doug Martsch, sandwiched between drummer Steve Gere and bassist Jason Albertini, let the music take center stage last night at First Avenue.

If it wasn’t for his guitar in his hands, Martsch is so unassuming that he could easily pass for anyone in the crowd. Perhaps that’s what draws people into Built to Spill: their music is made for those that care more about how a band sounds than how a band looks. Other than the occasional “thank you” from Martsch between songs, banter was kept to a minimum during their 100-minute set as song after song was performed for a rapt audience.

Like a parent that doesn’t play favorites, the band made room for at least one song from each of their eight studio albums. Shouted suggestions were either ignored or unheard as the band pushed through pieces such as “The Plan,” “Liar,” and “Get a Life.” The opening riff of their version of “Back on the Chain Gang” drew excited applause. Although that song dates from 1982, the cover fit right in for a band that drew inspiration from bands like the Pretenders as they defined their own sound in the mid ’90s.

Martsch closes his eyes during performances, as if it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s playing to a full room or by himself, allowing him to get lost in his jam sessions. While Built to Spill’s jams may seem unrehearsed, they stem from years and years of knowing how to handle their instruments. The recorded tracks can live on their own, but Built to Spill’s live shows breathe a whole new life into their songs.

As steadfast as the snow falling quietly outside, the band plowed through their set, sprinkling in new tracks like “Understood.”They closed the evening with “Broken Chairs,” a rousing number that goes straight to the heart.

Close your eyes in a crowded Built to Spill show, and the show is a whole different experience. Martsch continually pushes his musicianship to new levels, something that the band’s 20+ years working with and without a major label has not dimmed. While some artists may settle for putting out mediocre work, Martsch has been known to scrap entire albums if he’s not happy. Writing and performing to a standard they set long ago, the band continue to find new ways to keep the music fresh; the trio creates something that hums low and tenacious, holding on when other bands have long since given up.

Opening was Black Belt Eagle Scout, and sharing the stage before Built to Spill, Rituals of Mine filled the room with haunting loops and vocals that stretched emotions to their breaking points. Lead singer Terra Lopez was raw and uninhibited, whipping her hair in freedom as she commanded the crowd. When I asked how she isn’t emotionally drained by the end of the evening, she humbly smiled and said, “It’s hard not to be.”

Rituals of Mine

Built to Spill