20 years of Keeping Secrets: Built to Spill’s Anniversary Tour

20 years of Keeping Secrets: Built to Spill’s Anniversary Tour

Madeleine Morris

Currently on tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their hallmark album Keep It Like a Secret, alt-rockers Built to Spill play a one of a kind show. Frontman Doug Martsch doesn’t perform with the spontaneity or recklessness of a twenty-something rocker–no running across the stage or wailing lyrics with wild abandon. At some points during the Sept. 21 show at Théâtre Corona, it even felt like he was tired to be there, but as the concert went on, it was clear that Martsch was in his element. With eyes half-shut and his attention focused solely on his sound, he was maneuvering his own world of complex melodies, dense lyricism, and winding guitar solos that harkened back to the heyday of classic rock.

With a stage presence equal parts unexpected and engrossing, Built to Spill made up for any perceived lethargy with the sheer power of their music. When they finished tuning, they cut through the crowd’s impatient shouts by diving headfirst into Secret’s opening track, “The Plan”. Like many of their songs, “The Plan” has deceptively straightforward lyrics that, if you follow along, will zoom out to a much bigger picture. Starting off with some crisp guitar twangs, Martsch sings, “The plan keeps coming up again, and the plan means nothing stays the same,” lyrics that sound specific and particular to Martsch’s own life. But by the final lines the song expands: “This history lesson doesn’t make any sense in any less than ten thousand year increments of common sense,” leaving the listener with tricky wordplay for tricky ideas: the impossibility of trying to make sense of everything within a single lifetime. Themes like these are common to many of their other songs like “Randy Described Eternity” and “Carry the Zero”. The playful wit of these lyrics, coupled with Martsch’s nonchalant delivery, has carved out a niche that Built to Spill has occupied for decades. In the 90’s, Built to Spill was lauded as a breath of fresh, honest air amongst the directionless moodiness of much of the rock at the time. The intent in the lyrics, coupled with Martsch’s unquestionable guitar skills, makes for a show that feels like an out-of-body experience.

Although they were never a chart-topping band, Built to Spill has been remarkable in their ability to find a niche and explore it completely, making music that feels neither alien nor stale. This show was further proof of that. The rambling guitar solos they spliced in between classics like “Center of the Universe” and “Broken Chairs” felt like a day trip you take knowing that you will fall asleep comfortably in your bed at the end of the night. Built to Spill’s music feels intimate and personal, and this concert felt like discovering a home I didn’t know I had.

Built to Spill at Neptune Theatre in Seattle, 2013 (shitbrain / flickr.com)

“built to spill” by Dani Cantó, used under CC BY-NC 2.0 / Desaturated from original