Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Built to Spill

September 19, 2008 - 10:07pm -- Carol Diehl

Unattributed photo from the Web

Yawn. I’m trying to stay awake until I can go to sleep, after a late evening last night, when Maria and I went to see Built to Spill (an alt rock band, if you don’t know them, which my friend, Larry Gipe, turned me on to years ago, one of my favorites) at Pearl Street in Northampton. I’d hoped Dinosaur Jr. would also be on the bill (as they are in the upcoming New York shows) but no…which is hard to understand because J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. lives in Northampton. Oh well. It was great anyway. First of all I love Northampton and I love Pearl Street, which is your quintessential rock club. When I came to New York at the height of the punk scene in 1976, I lived on the Bowery across from CBGB’s and my orientation was the East Village, then full of clubs that looked and felt the way Pearl Street does now (but, with no cigarettes, doesn’t smell the same, thank God)—an ambiance where I’m at home. Plus Pearl Street is a small venue where major bands play, so you get to see them up close and personal—and you couldn’t find a better audience. Let me rant on a bit about fidgety New York audiences who make it hard to get into the groove when they’re constantly going in and out for drinks, texting, taking pictures of themselves and their friends, and TALKING AS LOUD AS THEY CAN SO THEY CAN BE HEARD OVER THE MUSIC. I sense that most of them aren’t into music at all, just there so they can say they went—while Northampton audiences are clearly hardcore fans who, with single-minded concentration that can’t help but contribute to the energy of the performers, are soaking up every moment. They even dance.

Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.

So, Built to Spill. Wow. Unlike most rock songs that are made up of vocal lines supported by guitar riffs, Doug Marsch’s unlikely Neil Young-ish voice veers in and out of epic, sprawling jams (and I’m not a jam fan, per se) that create loud soaring layers of shifting noise so dense that, although you can see guitars, a keyboard, bass, and cello up there on the stage, it’s almost impossible to attribute what you’re hearing to any recognizable instruments—except for the powerful beat that holds it all together (despite drummer jokes I really am going to be a rock drummer in my next life). It’s a sound that envelops you, takes you over, soaks into every pore. After “Velvet Waltz” I leaned over to Maria and said, “That was like having sex” to which she answered, “Yeah, if you’re tripping.” And they weren't even half way into the set. Billy Joel post with me—taking the part of BJ, of course— and it was hilarious).

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