Let down: Searching for a purpose?

Built To Spill
at Starr Hill
October 5

Maybe it was because I had something in the back of my mind, looming like a ghost ship on a foggy night, but I didn't enjoy Built To Spill's show at Starr Hill October 5.

Built To Spill hail from Idaho, and since their 1993 debut, Ultimate Alternative Wavers, the group has been a favorite of indie-rock crowds. BTS last came to town about two years ago, and rockers and mods from far and wide (mostly from close, actually) came to town to watch the monolith of melody that is singer/songwriter Doug Martsch and the rest of the group.

At the time, the band was touring in support of their fifth album, 2001's superb Ancient Melodies of the Future, and the show that evening was an energy-packed capsule of the group's long career up to that point.

The Delusions, a three-piece with two guitars and drums, started off Sunday's show. For the evening, Martsch sat in on bass, weaving fluid lines around the twin guitar assault of the group's two singers. Though the left hand guitarist possessed a rather standard modern indie-rock voice, the right hand gentleman possessed a strong tenor that reminded me, at least, of the singer for that '90s flash in the pan group, Sponge (remember "Plowed"? I thought not), and it was this latter gentleman who took the lead vocals most often. The pair's harmonies were great, there was an E-Bow used at one point, and the group was good, in a sort of moderate rock, sounds nice, kind of way.

After some intense stage reorganization, the lights dimmed and, drenched in azure, Built To Spill took the stage. "Reasons," track 2 from the group's second album, There's Nothing Wrong With Love, started the latter part of the evening off right. This song, a swirling pop/rock tune, was a nice sedate opening, but, in retrospect, I should have known something was amiss– "sedate" actually turned out to be the theme of the evening.

"The Plan," from 1999s Keep It Like a Secret, was on next, and though this song (and that whole album) is brilliant, the group just seemed off. At least in the beginning, everything was too quiet, and Martsch– whose high nasal voice is utterly unique in modern rock– didn't really seem to be trying much to hit the notes. In the words of a friend, the group "just seemed bored." Martsch played a "new song" straight away, which was in the general style of BTS's other songs, and not particularly grabbing.

Built To Spill are not touring for a new release, and though Martsch released a solo record, the eclectic Now You Know, in 2002, generally fans were questioning why the group was out on the road. After the end of a ten-minute, three-guitar jam session, where Built To Spill suddenly became a reggae band crossed with Phish, I was asking the same thing.

Built to Spill