Show Spotlight: Built to Spill @ 9:30 Club, 10/4/19

With so much coming through DC on a regular basis, how will you ever decide what to go see? Let's shine a light on the cream of the crop.

A legendary band requires a certain level of attention, and new Fuzzy Logic writer Ben Kirst has definitely given Built To Spill the attention they so deserve. You'll be hearing a lot from Ben in the very near future, so please give him a warm welcome. In a nutshell, Ben is a writer from Northern Virginia who has covered indie music, theater, and arts for a wide range of publishers over the course of a 19-year career. He is currently reading Anthony DeCurtis' biography of Lou Reed. You can contact Ben on Twitter. For now, here's Ben's take on tonight's Built to Spill show at the 9:30 Club.

Bands performing classic albums in concert isn't a new trend — Pixies rolled out a 20th anniversary tour of Doolittle for fans way back in 2009 — but it's a trend that won't die. After all, if new recordings and the back catalog aren’t going to sell, you need to find other ways to stay viable. Getting dedicated fans out to live shows is option number one. The band makes money and, you know, continues to exist.

Built to Spill, one of the finest alt-rock outfits of the fin de siecle era, will perform its highly-regarded Keep It Like A Secret album live tonight at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. Albuquerque’s Prism Bitch and indie veterans Love As Laughter are also on the bill.

Doors open at 8 PM. The show is sold out, but there are a handful available on various ticket resale sites starting around a mere $115.

Odds are good that if you like Built to Spill, this one is already on your radar. Indulge me for a moment while I offer some context to the rest of the audience.

The late 1990s was a tough time for rock music. Hardcore, grunge, and punk had been pureed into a kind of sweet, sticky ooze that provided mass popularity for acts like Creed, Kid Rock, and the Goo Goo Dolls. It was not great.

Built to Spill, however, never really “broke.” Like many of the popular groups of the era, BTS had Pacific Northwest hardcore roots and signed to a major label — Warner Bros. — when it was still a move that could cause hand-wringing.

Over the course of nine years, Built to Spill crafted a series of beautiful, complex, melancholy, and hard-driving rock records — 1997’s Perfect From Now On, 1999’s Keep It Like A Secret, 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future and 2006’s You In Reverse.

None charted higher than #63 in the United States, but earned the band a future-proof fan base at a time when nϋ-metal and pop punk were destined to crash. Garage took off and went away. Hardcore made an emotional comeback, so to speak, and kind of turned into a joke (albeit one that still has legions of devoted fans).

The bouncy, almost folky tone on Built to Spill’s indie-label recordings turned dense and dark as singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Martsch grew out of his 20s. Keep It Like A Secret-era Built to Spill is reminiscent of Crazy Horse-era Neil Young, quite different from fellow major-label alt-rock outfits of 1999 like Blink-182 or Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band actually included an epic 20-minute cover of Young’s “Cortez the Killer” on its 2001 live album.

What made Keep It Like A Secret worthy of a 9.3 rating from Pitchfork and status as one of the most acclaimed rock records of the 1990s? James Biagiotti of The Miami New Times puts it pretty well:

“The record features Martsch’s most accessible lyricism and songwriting, with hooks to spare and endlessly lush guitar tones throughout its ten tracks. Its jangly, reverb-drenched guitars play off each other sublimely. Martsch’s sense of melody was at its most pure and uninhibited during the creation of Secret. The band used the full capabilities of its major-label recording contract to create a massive-sounding, incessantly listenable album that still stands up 20 years later.”

I could say “The Plan” has the nervous energy and insecurity of someone fired up to change their life, but can’t do anything more than make a to-do list.

I could note “You Were Right” cleverly pulls desperate lyrics from the classic rock canon to express — almost celebrate — disappointment (“You were right when you said we're all just bricks in the wall, and when you said manic depression's a frustrating mess”).

I could tell you “Broken Chairs” is nine minutes of small-town emptiness jarred and distilled with monster, melting guitars and lyrics about crows that don’t make much sense but somehow work just right.

It’s better if you just listen, though, or find a way to see the show. You’ll get it.

[words by Ben Kirst]

[posted 10.4.19]


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