The first show I went to in Boston, as a first-year at Tufts, was Built to Spill at Paradise Rock Club. My brother was coming with his friends from Bowdoin to see them, and asked if I wanted to go. Despite not knowing the band at all, I agreed enthusiastically. I wanted to impress my big brother, to have an excuse to hang out with him, and now in my memory that night marks the start of us becoming friends, rather than ambivalent siblings.
I started listening to Built to Spill’s top-five tracks on Spotify and, like all newbies to the Marstch’s unhurried and psychic solos, became completely entranced by Carry the Zero. I was thrilled to see them and enjoyed their set even though I was not half the fan that I was pretending to be, lamely trying to impress my big brother and his friends. I remember seeing Brett Nelson in a coffee shop a few doors down from Paradise before the show and being impressed by how casually and unpretentiously he held himself.
I remember walking back to Hodgdon from the Joey that night and hearing Carry the Zero in my head, singing “count your blemishes/you can’t, they’re all gone” to the empty street. It’s a really, really great song. It’s a great song, but there is a lot more that makes Built to Spill one of “those” bands for me – the kind of band whose music is a sanctuary and probably permanently on my top-fives list.
Over the course of the next couple years, and especially mid-sophomore year, I started listening to Built to Spill a lot. It often happens that way — I see an artist with whom I’m not all that familiar, then become obsessed and badly want to turn back time, hear their live set again. After a year of ‘Keep it Like a Secret,’ the 1999 album on which Carry is featured, I finally branched out and into the warm but uneasy arms of ‘Perfect From Now On’ and ‘There’s Nothing Wrong with Love.’ I’m not even going to try to articulate what makes songs like Made Up Dreams and Velvet Waltz sonic spaces where I can go to be well, to be in touch with everything, even the shitty things, going on in my life and like I can handle them.
What’s crazy is that I am convinced I have this total psychological and depositional connection to a 47-year-old balding man from Idaho. I got to meet Doug Martsch after their set a year ago, my second time seeing Built to Spill. This time they played at Brighton Music Hall, and a friend from my job at the Sinclair and I were able to finagle ourselves right in front of the stage. The set was incredible; very little can match the feeling of seeing a band that has become a favorite, occupies a meaningful space in your life. Not even the presence of some dumb, sorry dude who was lurking way too close (to the point that we yelled at him repeatedly and elicited the help of strangers to get him to back off; this is the subject of a whole separate piece about creeps and personal space at concerts, and going to shows as women, not there for anything but the music and enjoying the company of whoever I have chosen to be there with) could ruin my experience and memory of the set. Anyway, after the show we were lingering outside, and Doug came out and did not duck-and-cover when I approached him. I was a stuttering little fan-girl, exactly that person I strive to avoid, but he was humble and, just like Brett, completely unpretentious. It makes sense. He’s sincere, and so is his music.
Jim Roth, the other guitarist, gave me their set list and then later that night I became sick with something called Pericarditis and an Acute Pericardial Effusion. Basically, my heart-sack got infected, and the space in between it and my heart filled with fluid. It hurt a lot and was terrifying, but nights that I was kept awake from the pain I could look at the list on my bulletin board. I could listen to Built to Spill, or just hear You Were Right play in my head (Marstch singing “you were wrong/when you said/everything’s going to be all right”), and feel so deeply comforted.
This time, last Monday night, Built to Spill played without Brett and Jim. It was a year after that one night that was basically the worst experience of my life and one of the best experiences of my life, but I approached it pretty neutrally. Ignoring any of the aforementioned dramatic associations, I just watched Doug. He does this thing with his legs, kind of jerks them excitedly, or lifts up abruptly onto his sneaker-clad toes mid-solo. It’s so endearing, totally unselfconscious and genuine. In the press booth at Paradise, I met a woman who Doug had given essentially a lifetime all-access pass to their shows. At the Brighton show a year ago, she’d been thrown out by security after having a panic attack. Doug had seen her, asked what was wrong, brought her back into the show and hung out with her and her friend afterwards. Unpretentious, caring, relatable.
That’s Built to Spill. Their music, for me, is infinitely cathartic and perpetually interesting. Doug loves what he’s doing. It shows, and I love it.