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. Mascis’ weeklong 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