Built To Spill at Turner Hall
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Pop music history is nothing if not cyclical. Old genres come back into style, old songs get remade, old bands get back together. Then there’s Built To Spill, an indie-rock institution that only appears to break up and triumphantly return every five years or so. The reality is that Built To Spill has scarcely changed in sound or form since the late ’90s, when it was riding a wave of critical and underground popularity on the strength of a trio of landmark albums: 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, 1997’s Perfect From Now On, and 1999’s Keep It Like A Secret. This decade, BTS has made a stronger impact via the bands it influenced—My Morning Jacket, The Shins, and Band Of Horses to name just three—than its own respectable though hardly groundbreaking records, which made Sunday’s show at Turner Hall more than just a great performance from a gracefully aging band. It re-affirmed Built To Spill’s status as one of the most important indie-rock bands of its generation.
As frontman Doug Martsch perhaps too-candidly told Pitchfork in June, “No one is in a hurry to hear something new” from Built To Spill, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Sunday’s show didn’t touch much on the band’s forthcoming record There Is No Enemy, due out Oct. 6. (Only "Hindsight", the first song to leak online from the record, made an appearance.) Martsch didn’t even mention that the band had a new album coming out, seemingly negating the point of touring at around the same time.
Martsch instead gently eased into a setlist culled from all corners of Built To Spill’s discography, opening with the sprightly oldie “Nowhere Nothin’ Fuck Up.” Looking a bit like Macaulay Culkin’s misunderstood elderly neighbor from Home Alone, Martsch didn’t exactly radiate rock-star charisma, and coming off an amateurish opening set by the highly derivative BTS rip-off act Disco Doom, the band needed a couple of songs to shake the audience out of its catatonic state.
It wasn’t until Martsch clanked out the opening chords of “Else,” one of his best songs, that things really clicked into place. From there, Built To Spill hopped from peak to peak, proving that it still does dreamy guitar pop better than pretty much anybody. Sprawling mini-epics like “Time Trap” and “Carry The Zero” split the difference between handmade basement melodies and grandiose guitar-hero grandstanding, and revealed Built To Spill as the missing link between ramshackle, college-kid-endorsed ’90s indie rock and the world-beating, quasi-underground pop-indie of today.
If there’s one thing that’s changed about Built To Spill over the years, it’s the band’s reputation as an inconsistent live act. These days the band is well rehearsed and in full command of dynamic songs like the set-closing “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” which surged and fell amid its powerful three-guitar attack. After a show this mind-blowing, we’re totally on board for the next Built To Spill tour in 2014.