Built to Spill | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The title of Built to Spill's recent Keep It Like a Secret sure seems to be an apt description of the Boise trio's strategy since signing to Warner Brothers in 1997. They're playing the game, but they aren't advertising what they're holding. In a Spin profile earlier this year bandleader Doug Martsch said, "When I think about our audience, I think about my friends, you know?" And when writer Eric Weisbard asked, "And if that's not enough?" Martsch replied with a smile, "Oh, we-ell." While some might view the relative conciseness of the songs on the new record as a commercial concession (the tunes on BTS's major-label debut, Perfect From Now On, were two or three minutes longer on average), it mostly sounds to me like the product of a real working band--the first Martsch has stuck with for more than a year or two. He, wonderfully efficient drummer Scott Plouf, and bassist Brett Nelson seem to be striving for a succinctness their live shows tend to lose as the leader's Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix fetishes get the better of him. But from the way Martsch stretches syllables and screws with syntax it's obvious that he still comes up with the words second, wedging in an extra noun here or adding an artificial syllable there to conform to the odd chord progressions and bizarre tempo shifts that make the songs so interesting. If anything's clear from the lyrics, which remain highly personal and often impenetrable, it's what guitar rock means to Martsch--"You were right when you said / All we are is dust in the wind / You were right when you said / We were all just bricks in the wall / And when you said manic depression's a frustrating mess / But you were wrong when you said / Everything's gonna be all right," he sings, acknowledging that the old cliches are comforting even as he questions them. And that, in a nutshell, is Built to Spill's secret. Monday, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brad Miller.

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