Built to Spill Brought the Noise and New Tunes to the Granada Last Night

Doug Martsch, at an earlier show.
Doug Martsch, at an earlier show.
Timothy Norris

Built to Spill, Wooden Indian Burial Ground
Granada Theater
Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In this age where reunions are commonplace for notable bands of the 1990's, Idaho's Built to Spill offer a different take on Generation X's need for nostalgia-replenishment. Unlike fellow so-called "Indie" acts Pavement, the Pixies and even Neutral Milk Hotel, the Doug Martsch-led outfit has historically taken causal, if lengthy, breaks in touring and recording, as opposed to breaking things up entirely. The ravenous welcome of a new album or a set of tour dates still occurs for Built to Spill, as evidenced by the acclaim the recently released Untethered Moon has rightfully received, not to mention the enthusiastic fans at the Granada Theater last night who welcomed the band back to Dallas for the first time in a few years.

Since 1997, the band has recorded each of its proper studio albums for corporate giant Warner Brothers, but since the band's sound has remained a consistent, regardless of the record label releasing an album, it's easy to still view it as an ill-fitting group in a mass-marketed segment of the music business. Comparisons can certainly be made between the overall styles of Built to Spill and that of its mid-nineties contemporaries, but to paraphrase the popular definition of pornography, you know a Built to Spill song when you hear it. 

A good portion of the set featured tunes from Untethered Moon, including the opener, "All Our Songs." Martsch's vocals and all guitars were bathed in the group's trademark usage of heavy reverb, with galloping percussion under it all. Martsch still has a dreamlike haze to his voice, though he delivered each number in a lower tone than what one hears on record. His guitar chops betray his soccer-dad style of balding head, ratty T-shirt, and jeans. Throughout the night, his Fender Strat would bounce off his restless, beat-keeping right leg, a sign that things were getting serious.

The lengthy, shredding intro to another Untethered Moon track, "Human Zoo," showcased major axe skills, but also put on display the band's talent at bending and twisting songs out of standard arrangements. For "Strange," from 2001, Martsch and crew launched into a gorgeously orchestrated, Mogwai-esque space-rock jam instead of bring the song to its more typically quick close. "Going Against Your Mind," from 2006's You in Reverse, featured increased urgency and force before mellowing and meandering in expertly textured atmospheric tones.

The change-out of both the bassist and the drummer bore no ill-effects at this stage of the tour, which has seen the band sweep over from the deep south in the past few days. Early tracks such as "In the Morning," and "Dystopian Dream Girl," from 1994's There's Nothing Wrong with Love, proved not only to be sweepingly anthemic, but were convincingly offered in a smoother manner than the punked-up originals of the band's most youthful days. Another older track, 1997's "I Would Hurt a Fly" lent a moody, jazz feel to the set as the band performed in a wash of gold and orange lighting.

More new songs offered the band additional chances to switch styles as well as tempos, further showing the strength of how well the new line-up has gelled this far. The dancehall-tinged "C.R.E.B." was a mixed bag where doses of the Clash and Dick Dale were handily blended together, while "We Will Never be The Same," arguably the night's mildest tune in-terms of tempo, offered a gentle, rhythmic doo-wop swing to it. 

Martsch formed BTS well over two decades ago, but the show last night proved Built to Spill aren't so much indie survivors as they are rock and roll thrivers. 

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