Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pinback at El Rey (1/17/13)

I walked out of the El Rey theatre Thursday night (Jan. 17th) realizing that there is a good reason that Pinback is my very favorite band. And they proved it without question at this show. This was the thirteenth time I've seen them and I think it was the very best of all. Since 2005, when I first heard the song "Fortress" and they almost immediately became my favorite band, no one has been able to knock them from that position. I had worried if I might ever see them perform live, though in the prodigious writings I found about them, there seemed to be a general opinion that their live shows were a bit sloppy and never came very close to what they sound like on record.

I listened to a few recordings of their early shows and I realized I would need to temper my anticipation and see their live act as a different version of their sound with all the music played faster than the recorded versions. They were still touring on the strength of the Summer in Abaddon album when I first saw them at the Avalon on May 30, 2006. They had assembled a traveling band that emulated their sound reasonably well, and though the songs were all played very fast, I was still awed by the musicianship of Rob Crow's guitar and vocals and Zach Smith's wizardry on the bass.

By the time of the release of their next great album, Autumn of the Seraphs in 2007, they looped in and around town a number of times as they toured twice for promotion. I attended the first public performance on that tour on July 28, 2007 at The Grove in Anaheim, got the album signed by both Rob and Zach at the September Amoeba Music in-store they held, went to see them at The Wiltern, saw a Christmas program they were part of that year at Avalon and when they came back and played Avalon again on Rob's birthday, Feb. 21, 2008.

They pull musicians from other San Diego bands like Kenseth Thibideau and members of Jade Shader, generally maintaining their 'live' performance sound which I saw a few more times. Then in 2010 something cropped up called Pinback presents the Rob and Zach Show for which I was lucky enough to attend the first show down at the Detroit Bar. This was just Rob and Zach on guitar and bass, with a bank of recording and looping devices allowing them to control all the different layers of the music themselves thereby recreating their recorded sound to a surprising degree. Unfortunately for subsequent fans, they had to end that tour a few nights later when Zach's wife had their first baby a little ahead of schedule and he scurried home.

Throughout these years, I went to see all their many offshoot projects like Goblin Cock, Three Mile PilotOptiganally Yours and Rob Crow's solo career, and as these were often in smaller venues like Spaceland or The Echo, I was able to meet them and actually have some conversations with them. It has meant a lot to me to be able to express to artists I admire, just how much their music means to me even though I have probably come off as a tongue-tied clod on occasion.

So, naturally I was surprised when the curtains parted at El Rey on Pinback last Thursday and it was just Rob and Zach and their regular touring drummer, Chris Prescott, on stage. After a false start which shorted out Smith's bass, up came a most unusual song to lead with, "Victorius d" from the 2003 EP Offcell. The song is mostly Zach and showed off his vastly improved vocal skills as well as his virtuoso bass plucking. He also impressed with his keyboard (above).

Moving on to probably my favorite song from their new album, "True North" (which I felt certain they would not perform since it is their first song to require a string section), a string section magically appeared at the back of the stage in the form of two musicians from opening band Judgement Day. Pinback with strings is really something to hear! Not only is the song an amazingly complex construction but when accompanied by the strings which are alternately sawing away or adding a slow steady background I was already near tears at the sheer beauty of what I was hearing. These are the rarest of concert moments when the feeling of ecstasy overwhelms and the world seem to come to a standstill.

The songs soared, and our spirits soared right along with them. It was like the culmination of everything I love about this band all there on display, right in front of you. Their music is so calming and reassuring to me that by now whenever I hear even one note of their music, I am overtaken by a wave of calm and peace. Or maybe it was the sweet, strong scent of marijuana that was as heavy as I've ever experienced at El Rey. It altered reality. Rob Crow was in fine form as he swigged heartily from a never ending supply of beer, but never losing the slightest sharpness in his playing and singing. Even after he tumbled out into the audience for a little surfing (below), he still missed not one note.

They have one of the strongest song catalogs to pull from so the set had no low points. Every song was a masterful demonstration of why they are so good at what they do. Regular favorites like "Fortress", "Sender", "Penelope" and "From Nothing To Nowhere" sounded sharper and better than ever with the clearest back and forth vocals I've ever heard from them live.

They even played unexpected slower songs which they never do live and the result was so close to the recordings that sometimes I thought I was hearing a different band interpret their music. "Loro", "Good To Sea" and "Boo" were gorgeous played at the correct tempo. But for all the classics I'll have to admit my favorite songs were the new songs.

I now may view Information Retrieved as the best Pinback album yet and many of the songs sounded even better in their live versions. The above mentioned, "True North", as well as "Glide" (and its great rear projections, above), "Proceed To Memory", "A Request" "Sherman", the beautiful "Diminished", all were carefully and faithfully reproduced with the added pleasure of seeing them enjoy themselves so much. And this all took place the night after another great El Rey show with Calexico, which I reviewed and posted at Radio Free Silver Lake.


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