CMJ 98 / Delancey Street Bowery Ballroom / 21st Street Tramps
Rearguard action from indier-than-thou Yanks...
Not that mainman Doug Martsch hasn't already been mentioned in underground despatches. TREEPEOPLE, HALO BENDERS and five years' worth of Built To Spill have maintained a steady profile for the bearded fella, and now his only problem is going to be keeping said profile on a Kinney-pleasing keel as this week's CMJ kicks into overdrive.
If, on one level, the college music scene epitomises white man's fondness for amiably screwy guitar outfits, both Built To Spill and MODEST MOUSE (pictured) must stand out as favourites. Particularly as Idaho's 'Spill have sold out the Bowery and three nights later perform a surprise set supporting neo-fi Seattle hipsters Modest Mouse at a sold-out Tramps. Pants-creaming stuff for the collegiate cognoscenti, then. We bet.
Built To Spill's cautious career path is likely to be altered sooner rather than later: January '99 sees the release of 'Keep It Like A Secret', their debut album for Warner Brothers, and the live scenario throws up terrific teases such as 'You Were Right' and 'Else' as the trio plough a sensitively rocking furrow which must have WB execs, fattened by REM profits, squealing in anticipation.
Whether Doug Martsch actually wants that to happen is neither here nor there. Certainly, the beard himself does as little as possible to push his band in a showbiz stylee, Martsch coming on like a reluctant geography teacher whose lunchtime jazz combo have accidentally hit the big time. During one particularly introspective lull an onlooker hisses: "And this is signed to a major label!?", and you can see his point. Equally, though, Built To Spill come armed with a surprisingly heavyweight arsenal of guitar solos and ostentatious fret runs which wouldn't distress, say, a Hootie & The Blowfish fan. Another fine excuse for the WB execs to indulge in excess.
No executives hanging around Modest Mouse's house, however. Part of an Up! Records night, this trio make a convoluted noise which rarely lends itself to dazzling live dramatics. In fact, they sound not unlike Built To Spill with Martsch's unorthodoxy lobotomised.
It is worth noting that Modest Mouse are playing a venue roughly five times the size of those hosting gigs by the likes of IDLEWILD, SIX BY SEVEN and MOGWAI. It would be churlish to suggest that any of those UK visitors would have blown the Modest Mouse collective arse right offstage, but we have now been drinking nonstop for four days, so churlish we will most certainly sodding well be.
The evening ends with Up!'s technoiseters Land Of The Loops ripping the arse out of Teletubbies. An example to us all, we're sure you will agree.
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