The last time Built to Spill played in Bend, it was at the Les Schwab Amphitheater and it was raining. Wait, that's not quite accurate. It wasn't raining as much as it was dumping gallons of water from the heavens, leaving fans - many of whom were there primarily to see headliner Michael Franti and Spearhead - huddled under umbrellas and ponchos, waiting for the deluge to lift. Eventually it did, but long after the band had wrapped up its set.
But Built to Spill's scorching guitar sounds cut through the rain just fine and those who'd weathered the storm appreciated the sounds that front man Doug Martsch has been cranking out with his band for the last two decades. Since forming in the unlikely hometown of Boise in the early 1990s, Martsch has become indie rock's foremost guitar hero and when flanked by the band's other two guitar players, Brett Netson and Jim Roth, the sound is one of the most complex yet cohesive sonic tapestries to be found in rock and roll - not just "indie rock."
It's been about a year since Built to Spill released its latest full-length record, There is No Enemy, and the band has been playing short tours in support of the album ever since, including the Northwest jaunt that sees them stopping off at the Domino Room on November 10. The band wrestled with the album for more than a year, with Martsch obsessing over the final product, which was his first time using digital recording equipment on a BTS project. When I chatted with him a few days before the album's release last year, he focused more on what he didn't achieve on the recording than the record's successes. That's because Doug Martsch is a perfectionist of the highest degree - even if many of BTS' sounds seem imperfect to the untrained ear. But there's a method to the madness created by the layers of guitars and feedback on his songs.
"Someone might not agree with me that some instrument is too loud or too quiet, or that it matters much, but I think there's something inside of all of us that when something is done right we really respond to it," Martsch told me when I profiled him for Jambase.com.
Since the band broke out with the single "Distopian Dream Girl," Built to Spill has rolled out albums at an almost Weezer-like crawl, with five years passing between 2001's Ancient Melodies of the Future and the well-received You in Reverse. Part of that pace is due to Martsch's obsession with tweaking the albums to match the vision in his brain.
But in the meantime, Martsch stays busy. During tours last year, he played DJ gigs at clubs after BTS shows, not scratching vinyl or engineering mashups, but just playing music that he himself would like to dance to. Then, this summer, Martsch and bassist Brett Nelson (confusingly named just one letter different from one of the band's guitarists) released The Electronic Anthology Project, which oddly might be one of the more brilliant things the band has ever done. The EP features one Built to Spill song from each of their albums recreated with keyboards and other electronic wizardry, morphing the cuts into quirky new wave numbers. Somehow, the songs - which are completely void of the guitar howls that made the band what it is - are incredible, proving that under all that noise is some songwriting genius.
Don't expect Martsch and the band to pull out the synthesizers when they come here, but at least you'll stay dry this time around. And you'll also be hearing a band that's playing some of the best music of its career.
Built to Spill, Fauxbois
9pm Wednesday, November 10. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $20/advanced, $25/door. Tickets at bendticket.com, Ranch Records and Ticketswest.com. All ages.
If There Were No Built to Spill, Would There be a...
... Death Cab for Cutie?
Ben Gibbard has always said that Doug Martsch and Built to Spill were an influence on his band all the way back to their early days up in Bellingham in the late 1990s.
... My Morning Jacket?
Sure, MMJ's sound is far more Southern (especially before 2005) than anything Built to Spill has ever done, but there's something about Jim James' dangling guitar hooks and softly stated vocals that seem to be modeled after mid-'90s BTS.
... Modest Mouse?
No. There wouldn't. OK, there would have been, but this Seattle band wouldn't have enjoyed this sort of success without Built to Spill having paved the way. Check out Modest Mouse's 1997 record The Lonesome Crowded West and you might mistake a few cuts for Built to Spill.