Tag Archives: Doug Martsch


Built to Spill Arrive at The Bowery Ballroom with Nothing to Prove

September 24th, 2015

Built to Spill – The Bowery Ballroom – September 23, 2015

To say Built to Spill, ensconced in their third decade, arrived at the stage of The Bowery Ballroom with nothing to prove would be stating it far too simply. Doug Martsch, the band’s creative life force, sporting his trademark aesthetic dilapidation, opened the first of three Bowery Ballroom shows with understatement that belied the tension in being both a musician touring behind his most recent LP—the band’s eighth studio album, Untethered Moon—and his position as something of a living rock icon. But Martsch is no relic or golden calf, enjoying neither the iconoclasm nor the media coverage granted to other titans of early ’90s independent rock, like Malkmus and Brock. Instead, Martsch’s enduring image is the one he brought to the stage last night: Eschewing the spotlight, workmanlike in his approach, still as committed to his craft as one of the great guitar players in rock, remarkably uninterested in whatever else comes with a career of his size and scope.

Appropriately, Martsch sported a black T-shirt and jeans, said little besides a mumbled “thanks” between songs and spent much of the evening with his eyes closed. Even as fans punctuated the moments between songs with shouts of “I love you, Dougie!” and “Play whatever you want,” Martsch appeared unfazed. He and the band, a new lineup for Built to Spill, played songs from across their catalog, opening with “The Plan,” “Living Zoo” and “The Wait.” The inimitable frontman remained largely impassive, demure even, as he thrashed through spot-on guitar solos. Like the line in his beard where the gray descending from his temples meets the brown hair of his jowl, resembling an inverted Black and Tan, Doug Martsch is these two things at once: young and old, roaring and contemplative.

The band then played “Three Years Ago Today,” “I Would Hurt a Fly” and “Sidewalk,” songs from 1993, 1997 and 1999, respectively. As Martsch moved into more recent material, “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” a lyric from “The Plan” emerged as prescient. Martsch had begun the evening singing, “This history lesson doesn’t make any sense/ In any less than 10,000 year increments.” A longer view of history was exactly the remedy for a set that whipped through the past, only sometimes chronologically. While Martsch appeared to care little for posterity or celebrity at The Bowery Ballroom, he held an intimate and hard-won sense of time—its pliability and its indifference.
—Geoff Nelson | @32feet

(Tomorrow is sold out, but you can see Built to Spill tonight at The Bowery Ballroom.)



Built to Spill Unleash Their Guitars at Music Hall of Williamsburg

May 21st, 2014

Built to Spill – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 20, 2014

Someone casually observing Doug Martsch might find it hard to believe that his voice comes out of him. The bearded, stoic and always somewhat serious looking frontman of Built to Spill is not a person you’d expect to have a fragile tenor voice that comes out gracefully tender. And it comes alongside a trademark wiggle—starting at his leg and up to his head, it runs through him like an electrical current, almost looking unnatural, like his voice is being pulled out of him from the deepest depths of his feels. By contrast, his guitar playing couldn’t look more effortless, pulling out incredibly difficult riffs without seemingly giving them any focus whatsoever. There’s really not a subpar guitarist in Built to Spill, you could pick anyone out of the Brett Netson, Jim Roth, Martsch trifecta and they’d likely crush any other band’s guitarist.

One of the best things about Built to Spill is that they’ll hide just a short couple of lines within a song that you’d love to last forever. Playing live, if you’re lucky, they’ll find that part and stretch it out into an epic jam, which has everything to do with their collective guitar mastery. All three guitarists soloed at the end of “Conventional Wisdom,” each relying heavily on the whammy bar, the wavering guitar tones leaving the song feeling almost like a living, breathing thing. They’d trade off, with one covering the beauty of the main riff, the other two mudding it up with equally beautiful noise jams. The climax in crowd-favorite “Carry the Zero” also stretched out into a swirling guitar jam. The prolonged intensity of its dizzying denouement almost felt exhausting to endure (in a good way, of course). For most Built to Spill fans, this is the first show with Jason Albertini on bass and Steve Gere on drums. The two fit right into the fold, pretty impressive considering they had 21 years of Built to Spill to catch up on.

The band’s cover choices were like a cherry on top of a sundae, beginning with the Dinosaur Jr. classic  “Sludgefeast,” perhaps in honor of J. Mascisweeklong residency on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Then came Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” quickly becoming a live go-to for the band. They were generous enough to let everyone get in their “more cowbell” jokes before the second half of the song, when someone came out with one. The encore ended with an epic jam of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” with some singing help from two guests, Erin and Peter, who pulled fans onstage, the show finally ending with a solid half of the crowd dancing alongside the band, with Music Hall of Williamsburg’s disco ball turned up to 11. —Dan Rickershauser

(Tonight’s Built to Spill show at The Bowery Ballroom is sold out.)