Doug Martsch


Built to Spill
with Lois
The Starfish Room
Vancouver, B.C.
Thursday, April 10, 1997

Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

Doubtless someone out there considers Doug Martsch the most uncool person on the face of the earth. I mean, how can it be that someone who can actually play their instrument properly can have any indie credibility whatsoever? Thankfully, dogmatic indie purists are too few to prevent us from appreciating Doug for the guitar god that he is. Yes, Doug Martsch of Built to Spill is the newest guitar hero for a generation without guitar heros. Thurston Moore, J. Mascis, Bob Mould and Kevin Shields spring to mind, of course, but considering the number of bands around today, you'd expect more than just the handful of inspired musicians that we have.

Doug Martsch As a Toronto A&R rep who will remain nameless once noted, "WE WANT CHOPS!" So that's what BTS give the sold-out crowd tonight -- the music is left to stand or fall on its own merits. Not surprisingly, the music stands, due mostly to both Doug's masterful songwriting and his wizardry on the Stratocaster. Halfway through the first number he's already broken an obvious sweat getting his fingers around a six-minute guitar solo, one of many that will beef up BTS' repertoire tonight. Stage chatter? Hell, that would only BTS bassist take valuable time away from more soloing; so all we get are "thanks" and the occasional "sorry" (for what?). The only occasion where the band wear out their welcome comes at about the thirty-minute mark of a medley including "Lie for Lie" and "Get a Life," during which Doug finally runs out of ideas.

Drummer Ralf also gets into the act with some fairly quirky use of drum triggers which produce boings, squeals and theramin-like whoops which you're never really ready for. Doug counters with an E-bow and a Roland Space Echo unit which tend to quote the earlier work of Big Country (the band, not the Grizzlies' center). Doug Martsch We eat this all up. If there is a downside to the show (and thankfully it's a minor one), it's that the set, dominated by new release Perfect from Now On, leaves little room for most of BTS' back catalogue. The audience gives an enthusiastic welcome to the opening bars of "Distopian Dream Girl," but I feel a little let down about the omission of "Big Dipper." Oh well.

Opening the show tonight is the northwest's own favourite Dana Scully lookalike, Lois Maffeo (or just "Lois"), who provides us with a quiet acoustic set of her pretty, samba-flavoured melodies. Unfortunately, said set is crippled by inept sound engineering: the vocals are rendered virtually inaudible, and the audience takes this opportunity to drown out the rest of the music with their chatter. The result is that I'm watching Lois, but all I hear is the git next to me telling his girlfriend how women think he's so cool.

Halfway through her set, Lois invites a friend onstage for a three-song interlude. An eccentric performance of nonsensical Ward Cleaver-on-acid ramblings ensues, and we are left with no alternative but to conclude that, whoever he is, this man is GOD and we should expect the Holy Ghost on drums, forthwith.

Lois Maffeo Instead we get Lois' friend Heather, who provides more comic relief by royally ripping the piss out of Aerosmith, and who drums in a style which can best be described as "angular," as if someone Krazy-Glued her elbows to her belt. By this point the sound problems have been rectified in time for Lois to break a guitar string and conclude her set with an a capella lullaby, which makes me realize that Lois is the big sister that I never had. I'm going to change my last name to Maffeo in the vain hope that she'll adopt me.

"Make sure you get a good spot up front so you can try to figure out what Doug's doing," are the last words Lois leaves us with, and they ring true beyond anyone's expectations. As long as he doesn't inspire anyone to go out and form an indie Allman Brothers Band, he'll remain one of the most credible musicians around.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on April 25, 1997

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