Indie arena rock, were such a thing to exist, would start and end with Built to Spill.
Monday night, Built to Spill filled the Cat's Cradle's walls and the ears of a sold-out crowd with their epically plaintive sound. The Boise, Idaho group's two guitar, two bass attack was a stunning affront on rock and roll, and for nearly two hours.
The long set wasn't so much a gift as a necessity. It was almost three hours since the show started before Spill appeared on stage. The first two opening acts were good, and the third, The Delusions, was great, but three hours is a long time on your feet to wait for the main attraction to arrive.
But it was worth the wait. At times jangly, at times spacey, at times blasting -- Built to Spill fills every corner of the club with a Wall of Sound for the new century. From moments of gentle quiet to moments of blaring attack, the huge guitar-crunching sound was hypnotic.
Spill's guitars are its hallmark, when either shimmering or screeching. They squeeze more emotion and awe out of guitar squeal than anyone today. They mesmerized with an electric duel between the two guitars during fan favorite "Carry the Zero."
Lead vocalist and guitarist Doug Martsch is an atypical band leader. Without any banter and hardly any movement on stage, Martsch has what could be considered anti-charisma.
His voice makes him a magnet, though. Despite obtuse lyrics, his singing is heartbreaking. His thin whine is plaintive and pained, thick with emotion. He's often compared to the great Neil Young, and for good reason.
Martsch surrenders himself to his music. During a mighty version of "Stop the Show," his hands dropped from his guitar and he stood still, head cocked up, basking in the beauty.
The group's sound delivers a sort of epic sorrow. Even the most up-beat songs Spill performed, like "Car," were at best a sort of bright depression. But they don't get you down.
The middle-aged boys of Built to Spill are about as noncommercial a band you'll find on the roster of a major label. Their sound is radio-unfriendly, and the guys aren't lookers -- the music is the star, too rare a thing on today's charts.
But there's no doubting it after the show ends: Built to Spill was made to rock.
The Arts & Entertainment editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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