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Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

Built to Spill @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Sept. 27, 2009

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For their commitment to the road and their increasingly lengthy solos, Built to Spill this decade picked up a reputation for being jam band, but that tag doesn’t quite fit. The term “jam” is too carefree, implying playing for the sake of playing, when Built to Spill perform with a concrete goal: perfection. Night after night, frontman Doug Martsch tweaks his songs, inching them that much closer to the way they sound in his head.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a whole song through all the way to my satisfaction,” Martsch told the Shepherd in 2007 with hints of both disappointment and hope, as if with just a bit more practice he could finally nail this elusive, perfect song. He might never live up to his own standard, but with its current, triple-guitar lineup, Built to Spill has never sounded better.

The group will release a new album in a week, though you wouldn’t have known from Sunday’s show at Turner Hall Ballroom. They previewed just one song, “Hindsight,” a twangy number that, as usual, pits Martsch’s besieged little guy against the daunting powers that be. It’s the most overtly political song Martsch has ever written, though only because Martsch has never been one for overt politics. After referencing unspecified forces that “don’t want to think about the other side,” Martsch channels so many frustrated idealists and considers a move to America’s neighbors to the north. “What about Canada?” he sings. “It’s a paradise, of pines and ice.”

The rest of the set balanced Built to Spill’s fragile pop (“Strange,” “Liar,” “Car”) with amorphous space-rock epics (“Kicked It in the Sun,” “Untrustable,”) before the band closed with the brightest gem in a songbook filled with them, “Carry the Zero,” the achingly sweet Keep It Like a Secret ballad. Motionless except for his hands, eyes closed as if in meditation, Martsch stretched out the tune with a serene mid-song solo that made it’s tragic, final verses burn that much hotter. Though Martsch might disagree, this is what perfection sounds like.


Photo credit: Dale Reince

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