Built To Spill

Built To Spill

with 764-HERO

The Point, Atlanta • October 25, 1998

Two of the hardest-working Northwestern bands in show business toured through this area recently, indie heroes Built to Spill and sparse brooders 764-HERO. I was looking forward to seeing both bands, and they both surprised me.

Built to Spill is essentially a one-man band, Doug Martsch (ex-Treepeople) plus about five different lineups since the band began in 1992. On their records (over a dozen 7-inches and full-lengths on K, C/Z, and Up), they come off a little like the Flaming Lips with an intravenous injection of freeform jazz, plus a whiff of REM. An odd mixture, perhaps, but they’re a little tough to nail down.

764-HERO has been a two-piece with Polly Johnson on drums, and John Atkins on guitar and anything else; their most recent record, get here and stay, is a quiet, thoughtful record, full of slightly-out-of-tune strummings and muttered lyrics. They surprised me by starting with a raucous song, and alternating between soft and slow (an ultra-slow version of “Calendar Pages”) and crunchy feedback pop (like a “History Lessons” that kicked and screamed). The addition of a bass player added a lot of power and energy to the sound, and the veins on John’s neck stood out like flagpoles as he shredded his vocal cords. Dark and dreamy, yes, but I didn’t expect them to rock this hard.

It seemed that Built To Spill was the main draw, the club was packed by the time they took the stage. It was one of those sweaty, smoky shows when you can’t help but practically drink the beer of the person next to you. And when the band did start, I was surprised again — by how unoriginal they sounded. The records are complex, with layers of sound, and echoes of the psychedelic ’60s (“I Would Hurt a Fly” wouldn’t sound out of place on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour), but live, they hit me more like a generic version of Bob Mould’s band, Sugar. They’re obviously great musicians, and Doug Martsch seemed to play effortlessly, but I didn’t hear the spark.

I may have been the only one, the crowd loved them. So what’s my problem? I don’t know, so check ’em out yourself. I’ll definitely try again the next time they come around.

Built To Spill’s new record Keep it Like a Secret is planned for release in January. 764-HERO’s get here and stay is out now.

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