Built to Spill Surpasses the Golden Rule of Concerts

The golden rule for concerts is that a performer is worth seeing if they sound better live than they do professionally recorded and mastered. Built to Spill with opening act Prism Bitch somehow met this standard and pushed it to a terrifying new height at their September 19 show.

Prism Bitch started the night with a volley of energetic garage punk bangers, proving to be much more than their self-proclaimed parsley to Built to Spill’s steak. The five bandmates’ clearly genuine chemistry elevated their performance above that of your average opener.

Their two main singers played off of each other to hilarious comedic effect on “Ya Ya,” performing a “Marco Polo”-esque game of wordplay that was intertwined with the band’s stunning stage presence and musical ability. Even when they weren’t singing with each other, each member made sure to do as much dancing, high kicking, and jumping off of amps and bass drums as they could, expressing their bond more than even their matching Adidas tracksuits could.

Built to Spill’s set was just as impressive as Prism Bitch’s, albeit with some major differences. Whereas the latter brought the enormous stage presence of musicians elated just to be playing with each other, the former took a more laid-back, experienced approach that showcased the members’ mastery of their instruments and songs.

Built to Spill compiled a fantastic setlist, playing some of the best songs across their nearly 35 year old track record and innovating them in fresh but sonically recognizable ways. “Car,” “Carry the Zero,” and “Goin’ Against Your Mind” were beautiful to hear live, and the new solos lead singer/guitarist Doug Martsch showcased on each exemplified the years he’s spent sharpening his skills.

Martsch’s performance was reserved but powerful, navigating insanely detailed solos with his eyes closed in zen tranquility. Opening them only in between songs to adjust his pedals and various distortion tools, he commanded the stage with his trademark voice and  mastery of the guitar.

The iconic musical breaks that are synonymous with much of their discography wound, rose, crashed, and flew smoothly without missing a beat. The near 10-minute performances of some songs flew by depressingly fast and never had me impatiently waiting for the next one to begin. “Else” and “Velvet Waltz”’s extended musical interludes were just as emotional and heavy-hearted as they were on my first listen to them, something not many bands can accomplish during a live performance.

The venue itself was almost as interesting as the skills displayed on the stage. Marty’s on Newport is a tiny bar at the end of a Tustin strip mall that has been renovated to fit a small stage and standing area, allowing for intimate shows in the last place you’d expect them to be. Although the pit got pretty hot (was very disappointed to see some performers sweating less than me despite doing five times the work), it’s a very neat up-and-coming spot that we should all keep an eye on.

If you’re a fan of Built to Spill or just rock music in general, I would highly recommend you seek out one of their tour dates. Although Prism Bitch is no longer touring with them, the musical talent of Built to Spill is timeless and will leave you chasing the dragon.