Built to Spill
Texas Union Ballroom, April 20 There were a couple of interesting things about this hastily arranged show on the UT campus: namely, opening acts Explosions in the Sky and Windsor for the Derby. And Built to Spill? Oh, they merit a few lines too, but only because they were so remarkably unexciting. We're not just talking about college-rock heroes, we're talking about college-rock heroes with a reputation for a great live show, on the heels of last year's universally heralded Live album. And what did we get? An arena-rock band in disguise popping off in a school dance-type environment. Thankfully, Explosions in the Sky made things, by all accounts, worth the unfulfilled promise. The place was well over half full when Explosions went on a little before 9pm, rewarding early birds with a set of star-gazing tranquility and Homeric drama. On this night, the occasionally combustible instrumental fourpiece was less explosions, more sky -- a beautiful, panoramic view of the grand Western sky aglow with swirling colors. Windsor for the Derby found that act a bit hard to follow, as they bewildered old-school fans from their Trance Syndicate days with a newfound urge to rock out and frontman Jason McNeeley's unexpectedly frequent vocals. Despite a couple of highlights by the still relatively restrained sextet, the speedier shuffles seemed to rob them of their previously considerable meditative powers. WFD is seemingly a band in transition, while at this point Built to Spill is most certainly not. In fact, Doug Martsch and friends seemed to have the whole thing set on autopilot. Despite all the talk of Martsch's great guitar solos on the live record, BTS is at their best when working up tight little songs, with the extended treatment nothing more than a grand detour. Said tight little songs were all but absent from Friday's set (along with every song but "Time Trap" off '99's Keep It Like a Secret). Instead we were left with a bunch of waterlogged midtempo yawners, bloated by excess, with precious few moments of squiggly inspiration. Martsch's wispy vocals mostly went in one ear and out the other like he was giving a lecture next door in the Flawn Academic Center. Good thing there were so many comfortable chairs in the adjoining student lounge, because by the time BTS dropped their final 20-minute load of insipid arena rock, there was a waiting list as long as the SMF computer lab. Built to Thrill, they are not.