Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Good Spill According to Doug

Back in an earlier age that never existed, or was the 1970s, some god, or perhaps Fender, said the guitar was good. Therefore more guitar was decreed better, and best, the legend goes, went all the way to eleven. It was an innocent time when brains were short, leather pants were tight, and hair was long. Some of us remember it as if it really happened.

Doug Martsch, on the other hand, decided to reinvent that mythical age, and thus was born his band Built to Spill. Far from your central casting guitar hero--he’s a balding, if heavily bearded, scruffed-up Jeff Daniels look-alike--it’s hard to believe that this guy with the calm demeanor lets loose such sweeps and swoons. No “I’m a guitar ace” grimaces for him. Yet each of his songs are rock operas, replete with guitar arias worth all your Be-Bop Deluxe records, for all that glitters is not necessarily glam.

Instead, his ‘90s indie-cred runs deep: After time in Seattle, he went back to Boise, and then there’s the Halo Benders, his charming side project with K Records avatar Calvin Johnson. For although he’s got ideas out the wazoo (the band’s name must be a reference to his musical muse receptacle), he never forgets three things: rock is loud, loud can be pretty, and some wit never hurt, neither.

Last night at the fabled Troubadour in LA, Built to Spill revisited a touchstone album of the '90s for anyone who cared about what was good, Perfect from Now. As is the current vogue (see Sonic Youth and Daydream Nation, Liz Phair and Exile in Guyville--for all I know, Tony Orlando does Dawn's Ragtime Follies in Branson every night), they played the album in its entirety in order, leaving some room to let the solos breathe.

Sidenote: There is something weird about a show like this. One reason you see a band live is in theory anything can happen. Odd covers, broken strings, fights between bandmembers. Knowing exactly what a band would play in what order is sort of like going to see Mets games in 1962 (and, alas, many other years)--you know what's going to happen. So it's about that happening happening well, taking you back, reminding you how good something was, how you were young and at least in this case liked guitars a whole bunch. It's about a packed room of people as cool as you for being there (and I want that sentence ironcally and not, please).

I can remember plunking Perfect from Now On into the CD player pretty much every time we had people to the house in 1997. I wanted them to ask, "Hey, what are you playing?" Often they did. So hearing it all again brought all that back, that connoiseurship, that parceling of knowledge, that sharing of what's loved. Plus it thwacks, swings, and rocks, soars, swoops, and lifts the top of your head off in that good rock 'n' roll way (especially during "Velvet Waltz" which I sadly hadn't listened to in years).

Upshot--the show was good and made my memories better, which might be best. After they got done with Perfect, though, the six-member band (complete with cellist) kicked right into "Goin Against Your Mind" from 2006's You in Reverse, as if Perfect was no big deal--hey we've got a show to do. The took "Mind" for a ten-minute plus ride reverse, forwards, left-right, into overdrive. The encore: a lovely version of the hit single in a world where things of goodness were valued, "Car," complete with those ultra-cinematic "I want to see movies of my dreams" as the cello sawed, plus an extra longish end solo. Fine times.

Plus the subject for further research Christopher Walk-Ins opened and Quasi played the middle set--John Cale's piano torture attack filtered through '90s rock with the one and only Janet Weiss on drums. Indeed, when we first entered the Troubadour and checked out the t-shirts in the front bar, who is right behind Amy but Weiss, and Amy doesn't even notice depsite my trying to point it out without going all fanboy. As usual with legends, I probably blushed.

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Blogger Mike said...

John Cale & Janet Weiss in the same band? Am I getting this correctly?

* * *

By the way, George, 8 days (and counting!) til I see Glen & Bill & Stan & Brenda & Dave.


(Oh, and I plan to post about it next week, and I promise to reference you, perhaps in the post's title.)

4:32 AM  
Blogger Generik said...

One of the greatest shows I ever had the good fortune to see was last year's Elvis Costello (and many friends, including Bill Kirchner)'s benefit for local musician Austin DeLone's son last year at Great American Music Hall here in SF, where he played My Aim Is True in its entirety and in order. I've seen Elvis perform probably 20 or more times; that was the best. He also reached into his songbook from those early days and played a good dozen unreleased and unrecorded songs, plus lots of familiar stuff.

This year there is another such benefit at GAMH on October 2nd. The line-up will be Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, plus, I'm guessing, some surprise friends. the next day will be the start of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Yes, it is an embarrassment of riches. And your point is...?

8:50 AM  
Blogger George said...

Generik, you'll be a Hiatt short of a Little Village Oct. 2, so if he isn't a surprise guest I'd be surprised.

Mike, sorry to confuse--Quasi is Weiss, her ex-husband Sam Coomes (who likes to bang away at his piano that says "Destroy McCain" on it) and bassist Joanna Bolme. Both Bolme and Weiss are Jicks, too, but Coomes isn't much like Stephen Malkmus--far artier and far less interested in guitar.

Enjoy those Feelies! I envy you. Where is the show? It better be Maxwell's.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

I have very fond memories of Built to Spill's 03 tour. One of the two opening acts (The Delusions) featured a very odd looking bass player, bald head, shaved eyebrows. Made me think of The Judge character in Blood Meridian. He kept looking weirdly out at the audience, conspicuously trying to look inconspicuous. Then Built to Spill came on and there was the bass player on lead. It was Doug (or "Dug," as signed my poster). The show was amazing, and one of the high points was his delicious cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." After the show, he was very quiet and introspective and spoke softly. Thanks for the fine writeup, George.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Shiltone said...

This is great; I'm going to see them next month in Boston, after coming late to the party -- turned on to them by my 16yo daughter, no less.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog~

7:43 PM  

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