San Diego indie rock powerhouse Pinback celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the way St. Patrick intended: by playing a sold-out set spanning their catalogue of albums at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg.
The band’s popularity has grown over the years since their debut album, This Is A Pinback CD in 1999, a record that needs no further raving about from me since I have so often fallen all over myself talking about how much I love it but just in case you are new to this blog I will tell you about it. It’s great. How’s that for a review? Oh, terrible? Not at all fitting the parameters of an effective music review? You sound like the people who read my Pitchfork submission a few years ago. This Is A Pinback CD is at once sparse and grand. It’s a stripped down effort produced in garages and bedrooms that feels deceptively bare in instrumentation and expertly conveys Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV (aka Zack)’s uncanny ability to craft melodies that stick with you forever and set you off on a quest to rave about them to anyone who will listen at any chance you get.
How’s that? Still not great? You’re a tough audience. I came here to write about Pinback’s show not be judged by you.
Opening act JP Incorporated is the fake-bearded, bare-chested alter ego of comedian/musician JP Hasson. The premise of his character is that he is a celebrated singer of television show theme songs and he was there to present us with new shows by singing their themes while projecting the opening credits on the screen behind him and then gauging interest via audience vote. Hasson is a regular collaborator with Tim & Eric, Neil Hamburger, etc, and his songs and accompanying videos shared that absurdist style. His act is funny, his songs and videos are wonderfully bizarre, and the hesitant crowd was quickly won over. It’s also worth noting that his album was produced by Rob Crow.
Rob and Zack then took the stage of the packed venue joined only by a drummer and launched into the first song, “Victorious D” from their 2003 Offcell EP. Though there were only three of them, you wouldn’t have known it had you closed your eyes. I don’t know why you would close your eyes at a show though. I guess maybe if you wanted to feel the music? Who am I to judge your process of experiencing things? Backing tracks from laptops filled in any gaps, and even with only three of them they powerfully captured moments like the build to crescendo on “Proceed To Memory” from their newest effort Information Retrieved. The song is a bouncing, layered tune that puts all of the band’s favorite musical devices on full display in support of their frequent lyrical themes: technology references and strained attempts at communication.
You would know a Pinback song from a mile away. The vocal harmonies are distinctive as are the melodies. And while listening to their records chronologically will allow you to experience their masterful sonic progression and maturity, hearing an assortment of songs from all of their albums together in a live setting shows off how unique and consistent their style and sound is. Some songs like “Non-Photo Blue” received a slight tempo change but didn’t suffer from it or feel rushed. All the slick harmonies and interweaving vocals of Summer in Abaddon’s opening track remained intact. Crowd favorite “Penelope”, from 2001’s Blue Screen Life, was met with gleeful celebration from the crowd who joined along in singing the tale of every Pinback fan’s favorite and possibly doomed goldfish.
Projected behind the band, clips from old sci-fi movies, travel footage, etc accent songs and fit the general Pinback aesthetic. In the case of songs like “Walters” the video projections help tell the story of Larry Walters, the song’s real-life tragic subject. Like the audio clips heard on “Boo” and “Drawstring”, they add to the tracks without taking them over or distracting. In fact, it’s a credit to Pinback that they still include these found footage audio clips on their songs six-albums in to their catalog. Another band might’ve phased them out in an attempt to hone their appeal. But Pinback continues to grow on their own terms. They sacrifice nothing about their sound or what they are interested in as musicians.
Banter from the stage was minimal, but Rob was clearly saving it all up for their barn burning performance of “Fortress” from Summer in Abaddon during which he turned in a full dance routine featuring the Moonwalk, the Worm, and some jumping jacks. If Rob Crow is not yet considered the indie rock Justin Timberlake then hopefully this show will give that reputation traction. Crow then continued to sing the song’s repeated final lyrics as he jumped down from the stage, microphone in hand, and walked the length of the floor to the back of the room, up the stairs and through to the bar and merchandise area. Moments of confused hilarity ensued when the band tried to get the microphone and cord back from the crowd, resulting in what Crow described as, “The longest it’s taken to recover from that song yet.”
The set was brought to a rousing conclusion with Summer In Abbadon’s slow-boiling “Syracuse” into the driving anti-religion themed “From Nothing To Nowhere” from Autumn of the Seraphs.
Returning for encores, they finished the night with “Glide” from the new album and crowd favorites “Prog” and “AFK”. Both of those last two songs are colossal displays of interweaving melodies and harmonies propelled forward by driving guitars and pounding drum beats. “AFK” is an absolutely massive tune that takes on a whole other life in a live setting.
Pinback’s live shows are reflections of what you get on their records: visually there are no pyrotechnics, lavish lighting, falling all over the stage with clenched fists raised to the heavens or smashing of instruments. What you get seems simple until you realize just how intricate, complicated and intense it actually is. Pinback remains a band that works on its own terms. And the results are great.
If you’re on Spotify, here is a playlist of all the songs they played in they order the played them.