Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images by: Scott Fleishman
Built To Spill :: 07.05.07 :: Avalon Ballroom :: Boston, MA
Built To Spill waltzed their way through a mellow yet edgy set to a subdued, yet passionate audience at Boston's Avalon Ballroom. The group has long been known as a powerful influence on Northwestern acts like Modest Mouse and Band of Horses, but what they displayed in Boston was their unique blend of influences from the anti-pop sound of Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, and the fuzz-heavy edge of Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis, to the surf-rock twang of Brian Wilson. They managed to showcase this eclectic sound pool through a set of tunes that spanned their 15-year career.
Brett Nelson & Doug Martsch - BTS :: 07.05
Doug Martsch (vocals, guitar) and company opened the night's sonic mind melt with "Liar" off 2006's You In Reverse. The song featured an extended, jammed out intro, which the group utilized to fine-tune some of their uncooperative gear. Things started out slow but not poorly. Following "Liar," the group melded into an older tune, "The Source," from their pre-Warner Brothers album There's Nothing Wrong With Love. The most impressive aspect of the early chunk was the quintet's ability to bring their studio work into a live setting. They stayed true to the familiar lyrical arrangements while stretching out the instrumental segments with exploratory jams that offered something new but still kept things to the point.
Deeper into the set, the group spit out a passionate "Velvet Waltz" that more than any other tune displayed the polar opposites their style engulfs. While strumming the living hell out of his Fender, Martsch sang the lyrics with his full lung capacity. Meanwhile, Brett Netson (lead guitar) plucked his strings gently and gracefully, effectively creating a hard-but-soft duality, an aspect of the group's sound that goes well beyond their guitar arrangements.
Brett Netson - BTS :: 07.05
The only complaint was the band's lack of energy. While focusing on their instrumental prowess, the group barely looked at the audience. Martsch sporadically graced us with an occasional comment, but for the most part, the members of the group barely looked up from their instruments. In fact, interaction onstage between members was so rare it left one wondering how these guys managed to communicate. Most bands utilize a nod here or there to queue a solo, or a quick gesture to go over sound levels. By keeping to themselves, they demonstrated that they couldn't have been more focused on their own piece of the audio puzzle. For a first time Built To Spill attendee, this degree of inward performing was far from expected. However, as the set progressed, it became more and more clear that their lack of stage antics has played a large part in the development of their honest, what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach.
The majority of the crowd stood still and silent while the band dished out song after song. Folks seemed to erupt into a frenzy of cheering and appreciation after each track, and as soon as the group went into the next tune a hush fell over the crowd. Given the rarity of such a subdued audience, it occurred to me that Built To Spill wasn't at the Avalon to offer a standard rock 'n' roll performance, and their fans weren't there to see one. The group has developed a unique relationship with their followers over the years, one that always ensures their performances offer a clear view into the mind and soul of the performers on any given night. For a group as comfortable with their role in their "scene," engaging in stage antics would sully the honesty Built To Spill aims to provide.
Doug Martsch - BTS :: 07.05
Given their low-key style, anyone looking to catch a wild night of pyrotechnics and dudes in Mohawks leaping off their amps, Built To Spill is probably the last band you'd want to see. However, the group is honest about who they are and what they seek to provide. We're talking about a group that is simply not interested in trying to humor newcomers but performs for the unique few who accept the terms. For those seeking sonic exploration where you can close your eyes and drift away, Built To Spill will always be one helluva treat.
Check out Built To Spill's "Conventional Wisdom"
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