Many bands can put out a record that sounds well conceived, polished, and professional. Very few of those bands can transfer that same sound to the stage for an unforgettable live act.
Built to Spill is one of those bands.
Featuring signature swirling guitars, the Idaho band Built to Spill played their first Ithaca show at the State Theatre last Thursday. Built To Spill has released nine albums, including the brand new album “There Is No Enemy.” They also have several solo projects and collaborations under their belt.
After two contrasting, but talented opening acts, the headliners took to the stage, prompting a mad rush of fans to the foot of the stage — anxious and ecstatic for the opening bars of their track “Traces.”
Built to Spill is noticeably mellow and easy-going while performing. Members are occupied in their individual worlds and seem content, confident and at ease.
Doug Martsch, the band’s lead guitarists and vocalist, has the energy of the all the band members combined. His music is often a combination of witty, airy and bittersweet vocals. Martsch’s music is firmly rooted in the underground of alternative-rock and his unconventional approach to a creative vision pays off.
Throughout the show, a song was rarely under four minutes and almost always ended with an uplifting jam. The music was awash in melodies and catchy hooks, often improvised by Martsch or fellow guitarist Brett Nelson. The planning for these spacious improvisations came between songs, when five musicians gathered around drummer Scott Plouf for a miniature pep-talk. Gestures, glances and shrugs were exchanged, with Martsch playing the role as moderator before stepping up to the mics again. At one point, Martsch could be heard saying to his mates, “Everyone know what’s going on?” Prompting a fan in the front row to shout in response: “Built To Spill, man! That’s what’s going on!”
Initially, the band was shy, not looking at the audience, but rather looking straight at the back of the theater or at the footswitches at their feet. The audience, on the other hand, simply could not get enough and screamed the usual “Have my babies!” as well as plenty of song requests. The material they chose from was immense, so they judiciously compiled a set list that combined the old with the new. They may not have been able to satisfy the calls for “Cortez The Killer,” “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” “Conventional Wisdom,” or “Car,” but the songs were all crowd-pleasers — inspiring folks to stomp their feet, throw their hands in the air and slosh beer on their neighbors.
Songs like the melancholy “Nowhere Nothin’ F— up,” and the classic, rousing track “Big Dipper” all played to the band’s strengths, showing their unity, versatility and overall talent as a group. Built To Spill played for more than an hour and a half but showed no sign of tiring — ignoring the blinding lights and two interlopers that climbed on stage to dance before being dragged offstage by security.
The audience loved the set. After the last chords of “Kicked it in the Sun,” the crowd swelled to a roar, demanding an encore. The chant “One more song!” was on everyone’s lips. They returned and played not one, but two more, earning them only further applause and praise. Members played their instruments with noticeable effort. Martsch smiled. This was his element.