Live Review: Built to Spill @ 9:30 Club — 10/4/19

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Doug Martsch of Built to Spill performs at the 9:30 Club on Oct. 4. 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)

Fresh off a four-night run in New York, Built to Spill carried their trademark sound to a sold-out crowd at the 9:30 Club recently. With the band fast-approaching its 30th anniversary and celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal record, Keep It Like a Secret, Doug Martsch and friends offered a riveting a freewheeling reinterpretation of that record mixed with a few choice cuts around it.

Keep It Like a Secret found its genesis in the fusion between marathon jam sessions and a need for concision, for shorter songs. Following Perfect from Now On — an album featuring longer songs and loping melodies — the band built songs from fractured moments in those jam sessions, from little nuggets built slowly into songs.

Stream Keep It Like a Secret by Built to Spill on Spotify:

Keep it Like a Secret continued Built to Spill’s relationship with Warner Bros Records (which ended in 2015 with Untethered Moon when the band completed the contract), taking ample advantage of the big studio budget afforded them without sacrificing any of the trademark Built to Spill sound. The songs themselves continue to be treasures, but at the core of it all stands Doug Martsch’s playing, his guitar tone a magical and unreplaceable thing so many guitarists have tried and failed to replicate.

At the 9:30 Club on Oct. 4, songs like “Center of the Universe” (pop gold!) and “Else” certainly shone, with the latter’s existentialism a familiar friend. More legendary songs such as night-ender “Carry the Zero,” with its takedown of life’s daily absurdities and “The Plan,” with its Chomsky-inspired lyrics, certainly enflamed the crowd, with everyone bopping along like the old (and surprisingly young) indie kids they were (are).

And then “You Were Right,” with its cheeky clichés, its universe-sized soundscape, its upside-down anthems; “You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold/ You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind/ You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall/ And when you said manic depression’s a frustrated mess,” a call to classic rock’s legends and a head-turning twist on their themes.

My personal favorite of the night, though, was “Time Trap,” the first song I ever loved by the band (and the first song of the night), discovered 15-odd years ago buried on the back end of a friend’s forgotten mixtape. To this day, I’ve no idea what exactly it means, but it conjures up such powerful emotions that I cannot help but sing along and be moved by it. The privilege of watching Martsch unwrap the song, its endless layers, was a hard-matched privilege.

The band didn’t just play songs from Keep It Like a Secret, also digging into “When Not Being Stupid Is Not Enough” (Built to Spill Caustic Resin), “Strange” from Ancient Melodies of the Future, “Bennie and the Jets” (an Elton John cover! What!), and introducing two new songs during the encore: “Fool’s Gold” and “Gonna Lose.”

The sold-out crowd certainly left satisfied, filtering into the surprisingly chilly autumn night with Built to Spill’s bouncy melodies reverberating with every step.

Here are a few photos from the show. All courtesy and copyright of Matt Ruppert.

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