As the millennium turned, Built to Spill was one of the bigger names in indie rock, even if the band wasn’t actually on an indie label anymore. Singer and songwriter Doug Martsch had gone from the homegrown sound of his early records to the sprawling Neil Young–like rock of his Warner Brothers albums. The band itself had gone from a loose collection centered around Martsch to a consistent lineup, and the audience had grown from a scattershot group of indie kids to a large and rabid fan base. But after touring for 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future, Martsch retreated to his Idaho home for a rest. A short break turned into a long one, and five years passed before Built to Spill released another album of all-new material, You in Reverse.
Funny things happened during those five years. Modest Mouse, a Northwest band that Built to Spill had taken on their first tour, suddenly became huge. Other bands, most notably My Morning Jacket, seemed to follow in Built to Spill’s musical footsteps. And just about every new indie band that came along had at least one guy who sported a bushy, Martsch-like beard.
Perhaps that’s why Martsch and company felt they had to rock so hard when they made You in Reverse. The album has the kind of power that only a great rock band can deliver. The first half sticks to a concise songwriting style that’s reminiscent of Martsch’s earlier work, but in the second half the band builds up tension and drama and rips out fiery guitar solos. Other bands may have the beards, but few can touch Built to Spill when Martsch and company let loose.
BUILT TO SPILL, Belly Up, Friday, March 21, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. Sold out.