GODS AND GODDESSES – MUSIC THAT MATTERS – Review of the Built To Spill Show at the Rickshaw Theatre – Feb. 6
Built To Spill Show at the Rickshaw Theatre – Feb. 6
By Lila Dutot
That title probably sounds a bit granola, idealistic and new agey. Those exact words came into my head as I entered the packed and buzzed Rickshaw Theatre on Wednesday, February 6 for the highly anticipated Built To Spill show that night. I’d only found out about it a few days before, but felt that I HAD to go! I’ve seen Built To Spill play live 3 times before. The first 2 shows seemed quite mellow to me, tho I enjoyed them. But, the last show at the Commodore a few years ago had been exquisite and very moving.
I think that I say ‘gods and goddesses’ referring to a certain royalty in the realm of the kind of music I tend to mostly like. Indie rock you could call it, tho that term has become vague, and I’ve even sometimes mockingly joked about in the past few years – “the genre formerly known as indie rock” – and scorned that a lot of it had seemingly become quite beige, predictable and even bland. Not so – Built to Spill. They’re almost the epitome of what the term indie rock used to mean. Almost the quintessential indie rock band, you might say? Or one of a few that way. However, the point being that just like in the world of mainstream and commercial music, you have the stars and the almost kings and queens of that genre. Beyonce, Rihanna and others come to mind. In the more indie world (tho, technically it maybe doesn’t fully qualify as indie anymore – as that true meaning refers to being produced and signed to an independent music label) there also seems to be this kind of royalty within it. Cat Power, Issac Brock of Modest Mouse and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco all come to mind. I even think of Patti Smith and Ray Davies, tho the latter of course especially comes from a whole different generation of music appreciation. Well to me, I feel similarly about Doug Martsch and the artistry expressed in his band and music, Built To Spill.
There’s that awe, respect, and even utter devotion that you sense in many of the fans that attend a show such as this. There’s still a sense that a show and following such as this has a bit of an underground quality to it. Not quite appealing to the masses. Which is interesting. A decade ago, when involved in an alternative radio station and cohosting at times, too – much of the music we promoted then could’ve been considered to be quite underground (and even a bit avante garde). Yet, now years later many of those bands have huge followings and massive radio play. The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol, My Morning Jacket are all bands like that. Heck, even Muse!
Built To Spill is a band that’s had great impact on me, amongst others. It was the beautiful song, ‘Strange’ that first impressed and moved me tremendously over a decade ago. I loved how it was atmospheric, cranky, confused, questioning, thoughtful, melodic and even expressed a slight element of angst. It always struck a deep chord in me. And I loved the art and album title this song was on: ‘Ancient Melodies of the Future’ (2001). It was an introduction to a style of music I was previously unfamiliar with but found great joy, delight and satisfaction in.
Looking around me at the Rickshaw Theatre the other night, I had the sense that many people there shared those feelings. People were relaxed, happy, excited. In fact, I was a little surprised by such a strong turnout. I felt instantly at home with the crowd and social atmosphere. I had, out of curiosity and a last minute impulse, decided to go check out the stadium concert of English band, Muse a few hours earlier that night. Tho, I love Muse and their music, that show style isn’t really my cup of tea so much. Very grand, flashy and somewhat over the top. Tho, I appreciate the fantastic talent of the band and especially the lead singer, Matt Bellamy, no doubt!
The crowd at the Rickshaw was decidedly very ‘Pacific Northwest’. I won’t say hipstery as I tend to associate that with a somewhat or sometimes almost contrived grungy look combined with often cool and aloof behaviour. But, these people were decidedly friendly, easy going and just obviously very gung ho! I was excited and happy to be there and couldn’t wait for the beloved band to begin!
Built To Spill took the stage and hit the ground running as the saying goes. I was somewhat surprised by this. Not only do most bands take a while to warm up during their sets of live music, I often find. But also, BTS tends to be a fairly mellow band when playing live. But, right from the beginning of their set, I had the impression of Doug Martsch and his current lineup of band members being more upbeat and energetic than usual. At least considering that this was one of the earlier shows of this current tour, aside from recently playing in Seattle to announce the exciting 2013 lineup of Sasquatch Festival (at Neptune Theatre, there.) For myself, as I’ve said in other music and concert reviews, an ultimate live music experience can be when the music ‘takes you somewhere’. Outside and away from the problems, concerns and thoughts of the day or day to day life. Usually, this takes at least a few songs and some time into the set. Not so for this night and show. First song and I was ‘off’ – into the magic land of music reverie and artistic intoxication – induced by music and songs that are poignantly special. I now know that that first strongly engaging song was ‘Stab’ from Built to Spill’s second album ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Love’ (1994).
I wasn’t really conscious of the fact of the supposed new lineup of Built To Spill. Tho, I am finding out as I am writing this review that apparently Doug Martsch changes the lineup of the band for most new tours and albums. I regret somewhat not focusing more on the different musicians and their talents and styles. However, at this show, for one thing, I did not feel at all like an observer – someone watching and maybe even judging the band and music. To me, it felt more like I was participating in an event. In fact, that was my sense for most of the crowd and people being there. To me, it was as if the atmosphere was thick with enthusiasm and attentive, respectful keenness. In hindsight, tho, I have the impression of ultimate talent and craftsmanship amongst the band. It’s something I’ve only noticed at a few shows over the years. That little bit of ‘extra’ talent and unison, rhythmical precision or skill, and tightness that makes a band top notch and so much more than ordinary. It’s something that I noticed once at a Ray Davies concert, with his then very young but outstandingly talented band. Another time was at a Patti Smith concert, and her backup band, then. Or also in the good ole days of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, some years back. It was also perceived and made quite an impression at a Dinosaur Jr concert, once. It’s not something I experience that often. But, with this lineup of Built To Spill, there seemed to be such a connection of talent, that I really experienced them as a unified band and not so much as separate bandmembers with separate talents.
The songs and music washed over me in waves. I was swept into it the way good rock and roll can when almost making you feel like a connoisseur of brilliant classical music and orchestras. For some reason, I had expected more of a perhaps jam band experience. But, this was definitely rock with its scratchy guitars, layers of rhythms and melodies and poignant lyrics, too. I read recently in a very old review in NME, that the critic considered Built To Spill’s music to be quite complex. I would agree with this. There’s so much going on in the songs. This isn’t just ‘happy, joy-joy, la la’ music, that seems so often very popular these days. It makes you feel so many emotions and aspects of what it’s like to live life. If BTS was a perfume or a scent, I’d say it’s one with many interesting ‘notes’. Low notes probably predominantly, but also some sprinkles of higher notes, and everything in between (just a thought!). Tho, the music has elements that might lean towards the trippiness and spaciousness of psych rock at times, it also has an undeniably earthy, grounded quality to it, as well. It’s layered and textured and the songs have thoughtful lyrics that give meaning and depth. It’s easy to personalise many of the songs and use them for emotive expression, just as I think a good song should or can. Crunchy, crisp and garagey guitar sounds round out other elements and are an often recognizable Built to Spill trait, too. Alot of the songs have beautiful, even meandering guitar riffs, in my opinion.
I don’t know if Doug Martsch lives on a farm or rurally (in Boise, Idaho) and have yet to research that kind of information and facts. That is definitely my impression, however. He comes across as a very down to earth and no frills kindof guy – straight forward and what-you-see-is-what-you-get style. So don’t expect a lot of banter and talk between the songs at a BTS show! There’s no contrived, rehearsed stagemanship or persona, either – just a man on the stage singing and playing his music. Which brings me to my next point. Afterwards, when reflecting apon the show, I concluded that there had been a wonderful rapore between Built To Spill and especially Doug Martsch and the audience. Which validates my theory that rapore is something that is not always created or even enhanced by words. In this case, the music and songs were enough.
“I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways.” – Rumi
In terms of the set list and repertoire of songs, Built to Spill played songs from many albums over the years. I was more than thrilled to hear my favourite Built To Spill song, ‘Strange’ played mid set. It sounded just as great/divine as on the album and I probably loved it more than any other time I’ve heard it played live. At its ending I had the thought “I wouldn’t mind hearing that song played non stop for 3 days!” but then again maybe that’s not realistic.
Another highlight of the show for me was probably during a song that I previously did not know. I’ve since discovered that this song is ‘I Would Hurt a Fly’ and is from the latest Built To Spill album, ‘There Is No Enemy’ (2009). The tall, young, happy fellow beside me seemed enthralled as he, with head slightly cocked backwards and grinning ear to ear, belted out exuberantly the lyrics to that song. You don’t see that very often at live music shows anymore, or I don’t! I looked behind me and saw several others singing loudly along, as well. It’s obviously a very beloved song for many fans, much as I have a few like that on another album, ‘You In Reverse’ (2006).
I must say that the sound at this concert was pristine! It definitely added an element and dimension of ultimate quality. At the end of the show we were graced with a fairly long encore of 4 songs, some of them cover songs – The Smith’s ‘How Soon Is Now’ and a song by The Blue Oyster Cult – ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper.’ The sense of sublime enjoyment continued and I should’ve been satisfied. The crowd sure seemed to be digging this icing on the cake encore. However, I just wanted this concert and the perfect music to go on and on…. I literally danced much of the way home, afterwards, as I recollected on how surprisingly satisfying this live music experience had been.
And, thanks to Rod Matheson and his fantastic Everyday Music Project for the following video: