Pinback at the Detroit Bar Last Night

                                                                                                                  Danielle Bacher

July 1, 2010
Detroit Bar

The Hype: San Diego-based indie stalwarts Pinback have emerged from some time away to kick off a brief West Coast swing they are calling Pinback Presents the Rob and Zach Show. No touring musicians, no overdubs, just two members (Rob Crow and Zach Smith) playing stripped-down versions of their nervy, math-rock tunes. The duo is working on an as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2007's Autumn of the Seraphs. Their latest album is due later this year and will be released by Temporary Residence Ltd. It remains to be heard whether they continue down this austere path in the studio, but their rabid fanbase has remained committed through the group's restless stylistic shifts over the past decade.

The Show: The ten show mini-tour commenced here in Orange County, home to scores of long-time Pinback fans. Unfortunately, this musical experiment failed on several levels. The show often felt more like watching a young band's rehearsal, as opposed to veterans returning to the stage after a few months' layoff.

They reached way back in their catalog for the set opener "Lyon" from their 1999 debut album. Musically, this song did not suffer from the sparse instrumentation, but the two members' co-lead vocals sounded thin in comparison. At the conclusion of the song, Crow mentioned aloud, "The cable might be going bad. That's my hypothesis."

Before third track "Charborg," Crow took a swig of his Newcastle and gazed out to the crowd, seemingly perplexed. The duo was still working out the kinks of the pared-down arrangement, the guitar lines jerky and off-kilter. Afterward, Smith announced to the crowd, "That's it. Thanks for coming." If only that were the case.

The miscues continued. Before the fifth song "Some Voices," Crow went to switch out his guitar for a bass, but got tied up in a jumble of linked instruments. "Fuck!" he exclaimed, before righting himself. During the song, he attempted to play both bass and keys, but he constantly had to signal the sound guy to bring up the keyboard levels in the mix. This detracted from the impact of the song itself, as did the bizarre video projections of astronauts in the background. "The keys were fucked up. I can't hear them," opined Crow. "I'm so nervous. Do you think that song was too slow? I want these songs to sound like the album." One frustrated member of the audience yelled back, "If we wanted to listen to your album, we wouldn't have come to your show!"

The group rebounded for "Penelope" from the album Blue Screen Life. Not coincidentally, this most closely resembled the studio version. Crow belted "take you to the forest/ let you feel the raindrops falling down," the most confident vocal performance of the evening. Oddly enough, he admitted afterward, "I'm pretending to be more drunk than I actually am so you'll forgive me." He followed with new song, "Sherman" that sounded like a work-in-progress. It had all of the classic Pinback elements, but lacked the precision and catchiness of their best material.

                                                                                                                  Danielle Bacher
Halfway through the song "This Red Book," Crow stopped and burst into laughter. He played the song at too slow a tempo, and he forgot the lyrics. After a second attempt, the Weezer-esque cut came together for the most part. The electronic drums paced the song well and the guitars and vocals gelled. 

Toward the end of the show, they played both "Non Photo Blue" and "Fortress" from their Summer in Abaddon album. The pair stood out as highlights in an otherwise undistinguished set. In "Non Photo Blue," the angular guitar floated gently over the chugging rhythm section. With an equally fast tempo, "Fortress" rode a metronomic beat with alternating aggressive lead vocals and dreamy backing.

"Oh my god, this is the last fucking song! Wink!" said Crow as he literally winked at the crowd. As if his banter wasn't enough, he revealed that he kept up the chatter on stage to fill time between songs. He took another chug of his beer and sang "Your Sickness," the last track before the encore. The downbeat selection meandered and wound its way to a satisfactory close. The extra set was a mercifully brief three songs, highlighted by fan favorite "Loro." The encore closed the night on an up note for what had been a very challenging effort for the band.

                                                                                                                  Danielle Bacher
Opening act Little White Teeth, also from San Diego, take a more traditional slant on indie-pop. The four-piece played moody mid-tempo grooves, echoing Sebadoh in their gentler moments. Drummer Yuko Sugiyama busted out the melodica for their fifth song "Superstitious." They'll be supporting Pinback for the remainder of the tour.

Personal Bias: I actually enjoyed much of Pinback's work, particularly Blue Screen Life. However, this was my first time seeing them live. I went in with high expectations, which were not met. Perhaps my feelings regarding their live performance would be different if I were to see them again with a full array of instrumentalists.

The Crowd: Two females were groping each other behind me, and engaged in some serious tongue action. Surfer bros, indie rockers and party girls were singing along and drinking as much as the band. If not more.

Overheard in the Crowd: See above.

Random Notebook Dump: Crow described the song "Trainer" as being about an idea he had for a movie collaboration between Herschell Gordon Lewis and Jean Cocteau. Crow had trouble pronouncing "Cocteau."

Pinback Setlist:
Some Voices
This Red Book
Non Photo Blue
Good To Sea
Your Sickness


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