‘Built to Spill’ has chemistry and creativity

Pick up any magazine’s issue of the “100 Greatest Guitarists Ever” and without doubt, you will spot the names Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Kirk Hammet and Jimmy Page. However, one name that seems to always travel just south of the expert’s radar is that of a true guitar genius. Doug Martsch of Built to Spill is a guitarist who possesses that rare blend of true technical virtuosity and a seemingly divine, inspired sense of melodic, indie-harmonic song writing, yet who has taken a role underneath that of “rock gods.”

After a quick stop at the Trocadero this past week, I am convinced that one glimpse of a Built to Spill concert, and these “experts” will become true believers. Coming off of a two-year hiatus from touring to allow Martsch to pursue his solo endeavor, “Now You Know,” Built to Spill returned to the stage with a sonic vengeance. Not being much to watch on stage, Built to Spill more than made up for their lack of presence with a perfect, seamless blend of old favorites and new greatness and made me understand why everyone should hear what Martsch has to say. With lofty highs and searing lows, we, as a collective whole, rode shotgun while Martsch (the absolute nerve center of B.T.S.) took the wheel and drove us into the mind of a mad genius.

In the studio, Built to Spill has only three members, Doug Martsch (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Brett Nelson (bass) and Scott Plouf (drums, percussion), however while on tour this band becomes a five piece. The reason is that Martsch, the madman that he is, writes three, four and sometimes five different guitar parts overlapping in under one single song title. The guitars fight, counteract and lead into each other, however when Doug Martsch puts them together, the guitars make love. Like two, three or four passionate lovers, they sweetly and seamlessly intertwine creating perfect noise and imperfect music.

Due to traffic and stupidity, I missed the first two songs of Built to Spill’s set on that damp night in Philadelphia. However, when I did show up, Built to Spill was already in the midst of “You Were Right,” Martsch’s homage to some of the greatest songs ever written. Almost every lyric of this song is a catch line from other songs of the past. “You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind / You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold / You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall.”

Soon after, they followed up with my personal favorite “Center of the Universe,” a perfectly-written happy, upbeat, jittery example of how indie rock should sound. After a few new tunes, they dove back into history with “Carry the Zero,” an example of those three, four and five guitar tunes mentioned earlier. After Martsch put a smile on my face with “Center of the Universe,” the song “Stab” was next. It’s one of those songs that if someone listens to the first two minutes and the last two minutes, but somehow missed the middle two, they would not or could not believe these two are the same song. Martsch blends two completely different and opposite songs with a perfect transition one would never expect.

Because of their amazing musical talent, Built to Spill likes to just come out and jam for a while, turning their four-minute studio songs into 10 or 15 minute rock operas, sadly giving them time for only about seven or eight songs in a live set. However, the lack of songs they did play was absolved by their favorite tune to cover Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Never have I seen someone play so quickly and perfectly for 15 straight minutes, but Martsch put that to rest when he took Young’s song, threw it in a blender, pressed liquefy and played for our ears to enjoy. And then, after the encore of a song even I had never heard before, we strolled out the doors, back into the wet streets of Philly, and something told me I would never listen to a concert in the same way.