I knew going into last night's Built to Spill show at the Knitting Factory that it would be a different version of the band. The indie gods, led by Doug Martsch
, are currently touring as a three-piece, which meant only Martsch's guitar would be on display. I realized on the walk through a scorching evening in downtown Spokane that I'd never seen BTS with fewer than three guitars on stage, allowing them to weave soaring and sometimes infinitely spacey soundscapes that veer into jammy territory.
And before the first chord, the show indeed felt very, very different. There was no backdrop to the stage decorated only by the drum kit, amps and Martsch's impressive collection of pedals, switches and other gadgets that made his place on the stage look like something out of an old NASA control room. There was no fanfare when the band took the stage because they'd already been out there setting up their own gear the entire time. It felt a bit like we'd stumbled upon one of the band's practice sessions.
Martsch then charged through a set that sounded anything but thin and showcased him as the guitar hero he should be more widely recognized as. With all the knob turning he was doing with his technical apparatus, there were times I had to ask my buddy if he thought Martsch was looping in some extra guitar parts, but it seemed he was playing it all live. No, he was not, was the consensus, and the crowd, which was a bit thinner than expected but surprisingly young for a band that is unfortunately labeled as "dad rock" by the more smug music writers out there, lapped it up.
High points were "I Would Hurt a Fly" from 1997's Perfect from Now On,
as well as several cuts from the last year's Untethered Moon.
Martsch's guitar solos were grand throughout, but his work on "Carry the Zero" took the tune near the 10-minute mark without letting it get boring. They even worked a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Effigy" into the encore.
I went in expecting something like Built to Spill Light, but that was hardly the case. It was, indeed, different than the five-piece shows I'd previously seen, but this incarnation of the band — which is a return to its roots in a way — is more than worthwhile. And for people who want to get a better taste of one of rock's great guitarists, it might even be a more satisfying product.