Live review: Built to Spill @ Mishawaka Amphitheatre - Reverb

Live review: Built to Spill @ Mishawaka Amphitheatre

Is Doug Martsch (bottom right) seeing ghosts in Colorado?

Is Doug Martsch (bottom right) seeing ghosts in Colorado?

Seeing a show at Mishawaka, up beautiful Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins, is something to put on your to do list. Regardless of your musical tastes, there‘ll be some act you‘ll want to see every summer.

The outdoor stage, with its back to the Poudre River, may not be as heralded a venue as Red Rocks, but it should be. With a capacity of about 900, it’s far more intimate and the sound is remarkable for an outdoor venue, surpassing that of more than a few Denver indoor joints. So what if U2 hasn’t played there, George Clinton has … a lot.

Likewise, if you haven’t gotten around to seeing Built to Spill, despite their frequent Colorado appearances, you’re missing one of the better live acts in rock. Judging from the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd, many were back for their second or third BTS show.

Lead vocalist-guitarist, Doug Martsch has long been considered one of the premier guitarists in indie rock, along with Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan. Like those two, Martsch is perfectly capable of playing like he’s trying to put the guitar in the hospital. Saturday night, though, he calmly and effortlessly unleashed waves of beautiful, fluid six-string whup ass. No self indulgent “Wow, am I ever expressing myself!” wank-off licks, ala Jack White. (That’s why ’70s music needed the Ramones). Martsch, instead, provides only as much guitar as necessary.

Despite Martsch’s abilities, increasingly BTS is a band, its strength found also in its two other guitarists, Brett Netson and Jim Roth. They, along with the rock solid pulse provided by the band’s rhythm section (bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott Plouf) kept BTS’s stellar performance at the high level it maintained throughout the show.

Unlike some bands which boast great musicianship, but lack songs to pour that talent into, BTS has several to choose from, some prompting cheers right from the song’s opening notes. One highlight was “Nowhere Nothin’ Fuckup,” Martsch’s “sequel” of sorts to the Velvet Underground’s melancholy “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” Another was “Strange” off 2001’s “Ancient Melodies of the Future,” utilizing the band’s multi-guitar sound perfectly, Martsch letting the other guitarists share the spotlight.

BTS has largely reined in the loud, long, improvisational jams they were initially famous for. Recent albums have allowed better songwriting and tighter solos to become the band’s focus. Hindsight” from 2009’s “There Is No Enemy,” provided just such an example of this. In the cool, comfortable evening air and the canyon surroundings of Mishawaka, the country feel of the song seemed more appropriate than any 10-minute guitar freak out.

Indeed, perhaps taken by the setting of the venue, Martsch dedicated a song to “the ghosts of the old guys who built this place.” All in all, another great show in a wholly unique Colorado setting.

For those who may have been otherwise pre-disposed, BTS returns to Colorado on Sept. 18, playing at the Gothic.

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Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.

  • Jake

    Thanks for this review, do you happen to have a set list for this show? Thanks again.