It's amazing that Built To Spill has been around for over 20 years. In that time, Doug Martsch's little outfit has released seven full albums, three compilation and live albums, several EP’s and singles and gone through numerous lineup changes. Remarkably, however, the band’s sound has stayed relatively consistent, as have the excellent live performances. This is all a credit to Martsch, whose passion for songwriting and performing haven’t waned one bit over the years.
On Saturday night, Built To Spill's latest version played an energetic, wide-ranging sold-out show at Boulder’s Fox Theater that had to please even the most discerning of fans. The lineup featured guitarists Brett Netson and Jim Roth, bassist Jason Albertini, drummer Steve Gere, and of course Martsch on vocals and guitar.
The show started off with the long, raucous “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” off 2006’s You In Reverse. This was followed by “Planting Seeds,” off their most recent record, 2009’s There Is No Enemy. After that, Built To Spill went into some old-school favorites, including a strong breakdown “Stab,” “Reasons,” “The Plan,” and “Get a Life.”
There is something timeless about Built To Spill’s music. It’s incredible to hear songs recorded before 2000 and see how they still resonated so deeply with much of the crowd. Martsch is undoubtedly the main reason for this. Even though his banter is refreshingly minimal (he mostly sticks to “Thank you’s” after some songs, and he did take a moment to thank the openers, Junior Rocket Scientist), his energy while he is playing is undeniable.
His head bobs and shakes like some sort of manic Muppet while he sings, and his solos range from nimble and melodic to lo-fi, grungy fuzz. The man can do it all. And while it appeared he may have been a bit under the weather, due to his coughing after some songs, it didn’t appear to affect his performance one bit.
After a superb rendition of “Kicked it in the Sun,” off 1997’s Perfect From Now On, Built To Spill launched into their first cover of the night, Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman.” This was followed by the crowd-pleasing “Big Dipper,” one of the first Built To Spill songs I ever heard and still to this day one of my favorites. “Srange”, off 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future, was another solid tune. Martsch busted out the tambourine for that one, and both Roth and Netson played some serious slide guitar.
Soon after that came an absolutely blistering version of Metallica’s “Orion.” That song came across as a testament to Built To Spill’s versatility. One minute they are playing slower songs with soul-baring lyrics, the next they are shredding an instrumental by one of the most famous metal bands in the world. The momentum from that song carried over into the closing tune, “Carry the Zero,” a Built To Spill classic from 1999’s beloved Keep It Like a Secret. Despite a fellow concert-goer’s assertion that “millennials don’t mosh,” I saw plenty of it during those two songs.
The encore featured two more covers. They played “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” by Blue Oyster Cult, complete with a cowbell played by one of the members of Junior Rocket Scientist. Suffice to say, the crowd had a fever, and the only prescription was more cowbell. This was followed by a great rendition of New Order’s “Age of Consent.” Netson traded out his guitar for an additional bass, adding more rhythm to the 80’s cover.
The band ended the show with “Joyride,” giving the crowd a bit of a chance to catch their breath before heading out into the night. With that, another supremely solid Built To Spill concert experience was in the books. I hope Doug Martsch and Co. release a new album at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, their back catalogue and variety of covers is more than enough material to keep them touring and entertaining for years to come.