RETURN OF THE SPILLIs the universe expanding or contracting? Hell, I'm no Carl Sagan or anything, so I can't answer that question. But I can tell you this: Our collective memory seems to be shortening. How else to explain the fact that Built to Spill have been granted indie-rock elder-statesmen status, even though they've only existed for 13 years? In those 13 years, though, their songs have indeed expanded and contracted, sometimes in that order, sometimes not, sometimes over the course of a single album.
Built to Spill started after singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch left the band Treepeople, and has over the years pretty much been an outlet for Martsch and whoever he felt like collaborating with at the time--though some members, like guitarist Brett Nelson, have contributed greatly to the band's sound, which might help explain their constant reinvention. 1994's There's Nothing Wrong With Love (Up) was, upon its release, anyway, one of the most unsung pop gems of its era. While Pavement's wobbly charm was soaking up all the love, few seemed to notice songs like the gear-shifting "Car," or the childhood ruminations of "Twin Falls." (Martsch was born in that Idaho town.) It's a damn-near perfect album that doesn't sound the least bit dated today.
Among the fans that did take notice were the suits at Warner Bros., which is where Built to Spill have been ever since. Their first two albums on the WB saw the band getting a bit more, well, expansive, unafraid to record a song that never would have fit on a vinyl LP side due to its length. They started getting compared to Neil Young's Crazy Horse, and not just due to Martsch's reedy vocals; they began to get a little (gasp!) jammy (though also not as wanky as Crazy Horse can be). In a nod to the Young comparisons, on BTS' 2000 live album, Live, they performed a cover of his "Cortez the Killer" that went beyond the 20-minute mark. With 2001's Ancient Melodies of the Future, the song lengths began to get trimmed back a little bit, even as the songs themselves retained some of the structural experimentation they'd learned along the way.
Fans began getting a bit worried when five years passed since that album's release, wondering what the hell Martsch had been doing with his time, besides growing his beard out to Father Time length. With the release of You in Reverse in April, those questions were answered. Reportedly a more inclusive group effort than previous albums--with much of it written in hour-long (gasp!) jam sessions, then reassembled into songs by Martsch--it could serve as somewhat of a career summary. Guitar heroics, points of expansion and contraction, pleasant melodies that dig their way deeper under your skin with repeated listenings--all are here in one tidy package. Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Help welcome Martsch and company back when Built to Spill performs at an all-ages show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., next Thursday, July 6. Brett Nelson opens at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available at the venue's box office for $16; they'll be $18 on the day of show. Call 740-1000 for more information.
NO SHHHH!-ING LIBRARIANS HEREThe High Strung are one of those bands whose music should sell itself--a pure blast of melodic, high-energy rock 'n' roll that combines the best elements of the British invasion, power pop and just enough garage grit to remind you that they hail from Detroit. But most people have never heard of The High Strung, so they've resorted to gimmicky tactics in the past to get the word out.
A couple years ago, they left their broken-down, heavily stickered tour bus in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a plaque attached that read in part: "Dear Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, The High Strung (Josh, Derek, Mark and Chad) really do embody the spirit of rock 'n' roll. ... This is a 1988 Chevy G30 used by The High Strung. Although the odometer reads 8,621 miles, it is actually 318,621 miles."
A couple weeks ago, I received an e-mail from High Strung bassist Chad Stocker that reads in part: "Stephen, It's been a while since we were last in Tucson. ... This time we are rolling through while on our Nation Public Library Tour. We are playing loud rock and roll in public libraries, as a way for libraries to get kids to visit during the summer. We are playing at Plush on the way. ... The libraries have been really weird, (so) it will be nice to play at a club."
Do yourself a favor and check 'em out on Saturday, July 1. The Ebb and Flow and Found Dead on the Phone open at 9:45 p.m., and Plush is located at 340 E. Sixth St. Admission is a paltry $5. Call 798-1298 for details.
PRETTY AND TERRIFYINGOver the years, Carla Bozulich has had a rather varied career in music: In Ethyl Meatplow, she belted out tales of S&M over noisy, industrial dance music; she fronted the Geraldine Fibbers, whose countryish leanings gave way to sheer power over the course of their existence, and remain one of the best live bands I've ever witnessed; she had a rather disappointing collaboration, Scarnella, with guitar god Nels Cline (who was also a latter-day member of the Fibbers and is now a member of Wilco); she released a track-by-track reinterpretation of Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger, and got Willie himself to duet with her on a couple of tracks. She's just released a new album, Evangelista (Constellation, 2006), with help from members of other bands, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and it's alternately pretty and terrifying.
Carla Bozulich performs an all-ages show on Sunday, July 2, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. The Dead Science open at 9 p.m., and admission is $7. Questions? Call 884-0874.