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Concert Review: Built to Spill at the Metro, Chicago Illinois

by Jay Peterson

As any veteran of the rock concert can attest, the energy level of rock bands varies just as much as artistic style of an individual band. To me it's the major component of my enjoyment of a concert. Some bands seem nearly asleep while on stage while others are kinetic wonders that leave you tired just watching them leap around the stage. Other bands have so much energy that they can fly, just like Bon Jovi in the Slippery When Wet video. Many keep up a quiet intensity that is more like a death dirge than a rock concert. A few bands built their whole concert identity by hardly moving at all. See a Son Volt show and you can see what I mean. Jay Farrar acts like it takes superhuman effort just to lift his head up. Then there is the rare band that not only has freakish amounts of energy but can maintain the pace like a marathon runner. Built to Spill is such a band.

I had the privilege of seeing BTS a month and a half ago at the Metro in Chicago. They had already played shows Wednesday and Thursday night and they had added not only one show but TWO to their Friday night concert schedule. They did a full show from Six to Ten and then did the second show from Eleven to FOUR in the morning. It is not rare for a rock band to kick it till this ungodly hour but most bands don't do it after doing an earlier show. This was ten hours of rock and roll for these guys. A rock and roll double header of ear splitting portions. I would like to see some professional basketball player do that!

Now Doug Martsch, the heart and soul of BTS, is hardly a handsome man. To see him in person one would could imagine that in his spare time he is training for the Idatrod or traps mink in Alaska somewhere. His singing voice that I fell in love with on so many albums seems totally unmatched to Martsch. It's as if God wanted to play around with the concept of making people sing in voices that sound like they had inhaled helium all the time. My girlfriend once said this while I was driving and listening to Built To Spill, "I don't know why you listen to this album all the time, THIS GIRL CAN'T SING." I didn't even try to explain that Dough Martsch is not a girl.

To see Doug sing is entrancing. He stresses and strains, with his neck outstretched, biting out every note. He opened with "Trimmed and Burning," off their new release (Ancient Melodies of the Future), and just flew on from there with old and new songs mixed in with some covers that came off very well. Scott Plouf on drums and Brett Nelson on bass did their frantic best, at times there were three others filling in with a weird guy in a wizard hat playing keyboards. There were ten second breaks in their sets, little spaces to let your ears recover from one frantic set of blistering rock to the next. In between all of this, a friend of mine was trying to bum smokes off people in the audience all while trying to hit on chicks. He decided that I needed to be his patsy. He would introduce me and then ask the girl to give up a smoke. I just had to play dumb. He asked me later if I was from Iowa or something. "I was born in Des Moines," I said. He apologized and then some song would catch his attention and we would be back to rocking along with this band from the land of the mighty potato. A five-hour concert seemed to go by quickly even though the Metro was crowed to the brim with people and it was as hot as Britney Spears Abs. It was a wonderful release from the daily grind and the pressure of a mundane world. And when Doug sung about atomic particles flying and good times talking to people you love you could almost see a quiet smile break out from underneath his scruffy beard as he thanked the crowd for its admiration. They ended with something that I have never seen. They actually PLAYED "FREEBIRD." I had been calling for "Freebird" at concerts for years, especially when I thought that the band in question sucked. But in BTS' case it came off beautifully with all the rock that Skynard intended. Most importantly it was FUN. Which is the real reason we go to concerts in the first place right. Well it ALMOST made it worth getting the fifty dollar parking ticket that night. I still swear that "no parking" sign was covered by a tree. Oh well...

Issue 7, October 2001 | next article

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