Built to Spill - Crescent Ballroom - 5/7/13
Built to Spill is something of an anomaly. Part grunge, part punk, part indie-rock quirkiness, the band encompasses all these elements without completely embracing any one for too long. That's what made Built to Spill's Crescent Ballroom show so appealing -- this is a musical idiom not found elsewhere on the rock spectrum.
Despite missing two members of the band due to a van breakdown, Built to Spill worked exceptionally well as a power trio. This lineup may also explain why the band kept coming back to 1999's Keep It Like a Secret, recorded when it was still a trio.
Frontman and founder Doug Martsch didn't miss a beat as the lone guitarist, and though he's typically low-key and focused on stage, he might actually have been enjoying the challenge of once again filling out all the guitar parts. Martsch was downright talkative too, acknowledging the audience on numerous occasions.
"Three Years Ago Today" kicked off the sold-out show in rousing fashion, with that welcoming energy carrying over into "In the Morning" and "The Source." "You Were Right" was the first of many Keep It Like a Secret tracks, and the crowd responded warmly. The sound was tight, thick, heavy, and upfront, overpowering the sound system enough that it was hard to make out Martsch's poignant, insightful, unexpected lyrics.
For many, the songs were more about Martsch's distinctive guitar style: forceful but subtle, direct but meandering, and raw but soothing. What was most impressive was how Martsch mixed and matched styles of post-rock, punk, grunge, and modern indie seemingly at will. Known to be something of a perfectionist, his movement on the fretboard was astounding, shifting tempos, rhythms, lead styles and tone with nary a thought and without a misstep. What's more amazing is that someone could imagine these crazy rhythmic movements, full of complex breaks and time signatures, and then bring it all smoothly together with lyrics that touch home.
Visually, Martsch hardly looks the part of a guitar hero, though he is one for many. Balding with graying beard and a slight paunch, his head jerking about as if on a stick and his voice straining at times, Martsch is not one to kowtow to rock 'n' roll conventions. Instead, it's his music that carries more than enough weight.