Home / Concert Reviews / Built to Spill @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Monday, Nov. 18, 2013

Built to Spill @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Nov. 15, 2013

built to spill turner hall ballroom live milwaukee 2013
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
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Whereas many of Built to Spill's slacker-rock contemporaries broke up nearly a generation ago, frontman Doug Martsch and company have soldiered on heartily for more than two decades, putting out solid albums every few years to mild critical acclaim and a devoted fan base. And while those defunct bands have since returned to cash-in on massive live performances to an expanded Internet-age audience, Built to Spill remain dedicated to its everyday, workman-like cycle. Even though Martsch shelved an album supposedly due out earlier this year—which would have been its first since 2009’s There Is No Enemy­—that didn't stop the group from embarking on an aggressive fall tour schedule, one more geared for scrappy basement-playing punks than indie-rock elder statesmen: a whopping 42 shows in 44 days. Friday night at Turner Hall Ballroom marked gig number 29 and the wear definitely showed. After brushing off the early cobwebs, though, Built to Spill delivered an all-together charming and animated set.

Things certainly started off slow—a long sound check played over blaring house music proved annoying, and once Built to Spill finally strummed its first real chords, it took a little time for them to gel. Maybe it was exhaustion from the arduous schedule or perhaps a lack of excitement about only playing older material, but the first few songs sounded rough. Martsch looked hazy, lost in his guitar, only to perk up when stepping up to the microphone to deliver his eccentric, spastic vocal cadence. The sizeable breaks between each song to tune only continued to delay the already snail-like pace, and caused restlessness throughout the crowd, who began screaming requests—though, you can’t really fault them since the band always seems more interested straying from the norm and eschewing its singles for deeper cuts.

Despite Martsch appearing detached from the audience, Built to Spill would eventually find its groove midway through the set. Martsch became somewhat livelier behind his instrument and played with a refreshed pizzazz. He would dedicate the lovely “Hindsight” to his mother, who watched from atop the balcony. And the biggest reaction the band earned was for the night’s highlight, “Carry the Zero.” Built to Spill came alive during the tune, which began with a shimmer of guitars before slowly crescendo-ing into a blistering wall of powerful chords and a seismic Martsch guitar solo.

Ostensibly a way to keep the show fresh—the band devoid of its own new material—returned with an encore that featured three covers: Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” The Clash’s “Train in Vain,” and The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now. They played distinct but relatively straightforward renditions, never delving too deeply into their own jammy tendencies. It was just another day of work for Built to Spill, and an admirable one at that.