Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Concert Review: Built to Spill at 9:30 Club - 9.23.08

It's not everyday you get to hear one of your favorite albums played in its entirety. Yesterday was one of those days for me, and I rather enjoyed it.

I'll get to the rest of my comments on Built to Spill's performance of their 1997 masterpiece Perfect from Now On, but first a few words about the opener, the Meat Puppets. I was vaguely familiar with them as an early alternative band from the 80s or 90s. I'd forgotten that some of their songs were performed by Nirvana on the now-legendary MTV-Unplugged album. That was one of my favorite tracks on the album. Also, it turns out two of the Meat Puppets' members backed up Nirvana on a few of the tracks on that live record. So, the 9:30 Club crowd was treated to a performance by someone who was respected by a legend, but I don't think most people noticed or cared until they played "Plateau", which was the only song that anyone in the crowd sang along to (after I got there anyway, maybe midway through the set). Their performance was nothing special. Nineties-folk-country-alternative has not aged well. During one song, though, they brought out a cardboard cutout of our sitting president and ripped his head off. The crowd seemed to like that. It felt a little bit like the eve of the revolution.

When BTS front man Doug Martsch and his band mates (3 guitarists including DM, a bassist, a cellist, and a drummer) came on the stage, it was hard not to notice how out-of-style and outdated they appeared. Martsch wore a baggy orange t-shirt (with a picture of Kurt Vonnegut - that is cool) and baggy blue pants, and he was sloppily bearded and balding. He looked like somebody's unemployed, alcoholic, uncle. Bizarre.

Then they started playing the first familiar chords of "Randy Described Eternity", and everything made sense again. His innocent, high, pleasantly whiny voice sang out his insightful lyrics over intertwining guitar melodies:

Every thousand years, this metal sphere ten times the size of Jupiter floats a few yards past the Earth. You climb on your roof and take a swipe at it with a single feather; hit it once every thousand years. Til you've worn it down to the size of a pea. Yeah, I'd say that's a long time, but it's only half a blink in the place you're gonna be. Where you gonna be? Where will you spend eternity? I'm gonna be perfect from now on. I'm gonna be perfect starting now.

Gotta love those lyrics. The album is full of witty, ironic, deep lines. It's also full of excellent guitar-work and song-writing. And they played the whole damn thing. It was quite a treat. Perfect differs from other albums in that the songs are longer and more musically ambitious than their other more poppy albums (which are still very good). They were very faithful to the recording, except for a few missing guitar solos (most notably on "I Would Hurt a Fly"), which was a little disappointing. Otherwise, Martsch and company did exactly what they came to do: play a decade-old modern classic from beginning to end. The guitar melodies were crisp, the cello fills were rich, and Martch's singing got stronger as the night went on.

Their first encore was "Car", a fun little poppy track I really like from There's Nothing Wrong With Love. I was happy to hear it. I wish they'd just ended the show there, though. For their second encore, they played a song I wasn't familiar with, and don't care to be, since it went on for about 20 minutes of self-indulgent, boring "jamming" that I can do without. There were so many fake-me-out almost-endings to the song that I can't help but think they were playing a joke on us. Good one Doug. It didn't take away from the rest of the performance, though.

The show was great. Somehow, it didn't even sell out the 930 club, even though tickets went on sale months ago. What the hell? How does Vampire Weekend sell out two shows in December and Built to Spill not sell out one?! Anyway, if you ever have a chance to see them, please do. Martsch is an indie rock giant in my book. He'll spend eternity in rock heaven.

No comments: