Thursday, October 2, 2008

Built To Spill, Dinosaur Jr, The Meat Puppets--Terminal 5, New York City

When I sat down to write this review, I couldn’t decide whether to write a paint-by-numbers review of the show itself or to write one of those “my experience” reviews filled with personal stuff and feelings and that kind of crap. When I read live reviews, I just want to know the answers to a few questions: did Band X sound good, what songs did Band X play, did anything out of the ordinary happen, and what, in general terms, did the reviewer think of the show. I really don’t give a shit about the reviewer’s intimate personal experience. After writing a couple reviews, however, I realize that including personal stuff is more for the reviewer than the reader. It’s more fun to write about the experience than just the music and, after all, the experience of a show is (most of the time) more important than the sound. I could easily name the shows I’ve been to that were the best experiences (quickly, The Hives at the Black Cat, Modest Mouse at the Black Cat, The Arcade Fire at the TLA, and the Futureheads at Barfly). I wouldn’t know where to start to name the shows I’ve been to that sounded the best. This is just a long way of saying that I’m going to write this in two parts. First, about the show and, second, about my personal experience. Hopefully, these parts will create a better whole, like citizens in theoretical Communism. Or Voltron.

I arrived at the awful Terminal 5, located somewhere in New York where no one goes unless they want to a) buy a car, b) film a show at CBS studios, or c) never be seen again, about half way through the Meat Puppets’ set. I realize that the Meat Puppets are a very, very well respected proto-grunge band, but I’ve never listened to them. I’ve never even tried to listen to them. I’m a little embarrassed to say that the only songs they played that I recognized were the ones that Nirvana covered on Unplugged. That being one of my favorite albums, it was kind of cool to see those songs played by the owners. The set was solid and they sounded good, but it didn’t cause me to go out looking for their stuff.

Dinosaur Jr came on about 45 minutes after the Meat Puppets finished. During the break, I spilled some Snapple on my red flannel shirt and went outside to use a pay phone to call my friend to see how Mets ace Bret Saberhagen was doing (answer: because it’s an even numbered year, not well). Like the Puppets, I somehow know very little about Dinosaur Jr I know that Mascis was declared to be God by Spin a long time ago, that he has long white hair, and that he can tear up a guitar. I don’t know a single Dinosaur Jr song. That out of the way, they were excellent. Mascis stood stage left in a corner created by 10 foot high amps (an awesome looking set-up) and traded a little singing with a lot of noise. Most of the time when he sang, he didn’t play his guitar, leaving the rhythm section to fill the void. This was a good way to realize how good the drummer and bassist are - they could have been a band by themselves. Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of any of the songs they played, but I’ll definitely give a listen to their classic period studio output. They were impressive.

I’ve never been to a show when I know exactly what was coming: every song, note, word, etc. Tonight would be my first because Built to Spill was going to play through their masterpiece Perfect from Now On in its entirety. I knew what they would open with, what they would close with, what the seventh song would be, and when was a good time to go to the bathroom (the middle of “Kicked it in the Sun”). After the gear was all set up, lead singer and guitarist Doug Martch grabbed his guitar, walked up to the mic, and turned his back to the crowd to say something to the band. It was kind of cool how everyone in the crowd knew what was coming - when Martch turned around and played those intro notes to “Randy Described Eternity” I think everyone I saw was smiling. Then the familiar drums and bass kicked in and it was on. The tension built until Martch, matched by the crowd, belted out the familiar opening, “Every thousand years….”

They tried to make the show sound exactly like the album and, for the most part, did a very good job. In addition to the normal three members, the band included two additional guitarists (I think one was Brett Netson), a keyboard player, and a cellist. It was actually kind of remarkable how such a dense-sounding album really can be broken down into parts and completely recreated outside a studio. The only real noticeable and consistent difference between the album and the show was Martch’s deeper, 11-years-older voice. He strained to hit some of the mid-90s highs (like the beginning of “Made-Up Dreams”) and succeeded most of the time.

Highlights of the show matched highlights of the album. When the album picks up momentum with “Out of Sight”, the show did too. The emotional highs of “Randy Described Eternity” and “Velvet Waltz” were precisely duplicated, and “Untrustable” was just as good a show closer as it is an album closer. Near the end of “Untrustable” I started to get excited because I didn’t know what was coming next. I imagined that the band would take a break and come back with a few fan favorites. I was only half right. Maybe a second after the last note of “Untrustable” the very familiar intro to “The Plan” sent a jolt through a crowd not expecting a surprise. After “The Plan” they played “Center of the Universe”. Then they started to play “Carry the Zero.” At that point, I kind of let myself get excited that maybe, just maybe, this would be one of those “I was there” nights and the band would play through Keep it Like a Secret too. That was expecting a little too much. “Carry the Zero” turned into a 20-minute alt rock jam starring Built to Spill, the Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr., and 1994. I realize that I’m pretty lucky to have seen Martch and Mascis in a guitar duel, but I might have preferred one or two more Built to Spill songs. Still, it was a good close to the night.

Now for the personal stuff. Listening to Perfect from Now On used to depress the shit out of me. I think that effect can be solely attributed to “Randy Described Eternity”. Something about the opening, about touching that metal sphere with a feather every thousand years, reminds me of my mortality - that I’m probably never going to see that sphere (and if I do, it’ll only be once). On top of that, no matter what I do, I’m not going to be perfect from now on no matter how badly I want to be or how hard I try. And, like most people, I’m usually ok with that. But not in the hour or so after listening to this particular album.

Seeing the show was almost a personal challenge for me - can I do it? Will the show have the same effect on me as the album? The answers to those questions are yes and no. Seeing how much fun the band seemed to be having, seeing Martch smile through what I used to think were some very dark lyrics, made me realize that I have been either overreacting to or misinterpreting them. I was able to enjoy the show happily, completely, and easily - it was uplifting, opposite what I thought it would be. Those feelings have carried over to subsequent listenings of the album. I’ve always known that Perfect from Now On is a great album, but now I can actually enjoy it because, after listening to it now, I don’t want to curl up in a ball wrapped in a warm blanket. I’m ok knowing that I won’t be perfect and probably won’t be able to help wear that sphere down to the size of a pea. But I’ll have my father ready just in case.

--Jim Powers


Nick said...

WOW, what a rediculously epic line-up, even though i too know hardly anything about the Meat Puppets. Dino Jr are definitely one of my fav ever acts, theyve actually come to New Zealand twice so i've actually seen them :) Give their first 3 albums a listen, they're finest moments before the break-up debarkle took place.

I would pay a lot of money to get a chance built to spill play PFNO in its entireity so i'm glad you went.

Nice review.

lil' elF said...

Doug Martsch. I am glad you had fun. You make me sick.

Brian said...

When is Jim Powers going to be recognized as an official NQL contributor? And when is someone going to start a band called Theoretical Communism?

eXTReMe Tracker