Built to Spill
A steady beat and a guitar that might just go anywhere: this is the formula that Boise’s Built to Spill has followed over the course of five studio albums. They play live in support of their latest offering, Ancient Melodies for the Future tonight and tomorrow at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Martsch first sharpened his chops with seminal late ’80s/ early ’90s Boise/Seattle outfit the Treepeople. After Martsch left the group to flounder in his wake, he started Built to Spill.
The band proved itself a live workhorse in those early days, and continues to hold its own on stage. The sound is a full one that alternates between bright and brooding guitar rock at a mid-tempo clip. The bass and drums hold things down, while Martsch and his guitar have a subtly displayed love affair in front of the crowd.
Martsch’s voice still carries nicely over it all, and while this band doesn’t make its trade in charisma, sex appeal or youth (Martsch is a balding father in his mid-30s), the classic-rock sound, and the sheer talent of its leader, works on audiences every time.
What is amazing is that Martsch is somehow able to pull off multiple guitar parts at a time in a live setting.
Back in ’91, this writer watched and listened in awe as he changed a broken string while continuing to play his part, under the threat of Washington State Patrollers about to break down the gates of the Moses Lake fairgrounds.
Ancient Melodies is an aptly titled release that features stripped-down guitar riffs (by Martsch’s standards) and less of the all-out jamming into which he is prone to fall. As the chord progressions start to get predictable, and sans much of the noodling, Ancient Melodies finds the band fully entrenched in a steady-as-she goes approach.
But live, they’ve still got it. The rich sound that is Built to Spill will carry through Crystal Ballroom’s acoustics like ancient melodies themselves. The years as a road band and Built to Spill remains always in top form, never missing a beat. Expect to find kids crying in their beers.
Opening up for Built to Spill will be the Delusions and the Hand.