Live Review: Pinback @ Logan Square Auditorium 4/30
Live music is a fickle friend. You see a band once and the sound is as crisp and centered as a decently-mixed album, you see a band twice and the noise is as muffled and imbalanced as if you were listening to your little brother’s lo-fi punk trio through the basement heating duct. Sometimes crowds are intense, fueled by excitement and egged on by beer, sometimes crowds are lame, fueled by beer and egged on by boredom. Sometimes a band you hate puts on a good show. Sometimes a band you love fizzles and crumbles before your lionizing eyes. Your assurance wavers. Your heart is crushed. In your live music life, adoration swells and deflates, loyalties wax and wane, indie bands come and go. But Rob Crow and his beard are forever. The high school gymnasium that is Logan Square Auditorium is perhaps the best setting for Pinback, because they’re as geeky as a prom band and they set the tone for sophisticated dance offs that unite rather than divide the chic sexies and bizarre outlanders of indie rock fandom. At ten o’clock Crow, Zach Smith and company began their set with the cool and panging “Bloods on Fire” then strolled into the leisurely “Yellow Ones.” While this might sound like a less than explosive opening, Pinback is not the band to emulate themselves, and what lacked electronically onstage was made up for by the stepping up of drum and bass and tempo, and every song was transformed from glistening, listenable pop to radiant rock nothing less than infectiously groovin’. The crowd did leave something to be desired. Tracks like “Syracuse” and “Penelope” had the catchiness of dance pop and the potency of electro punk but most seemed content with at most a head bobbing; however, Pinback has a core group of diehards and they dotted the floor with their convulsive jives and injected the air with their growling sing alongs. And it was a chatty crowd, indeed. This was my fourth Pinback show and they’re always the same; Rob Crow making quixotic exclamations that may or may not be jokes, the crowd answering back, Zach Smith ducking in with a jab. This time around Crow kept whispering “Satan” into the microphone, and some pranksters in the crowd tossed balloons around and drew pictures of penises on them and wrote wacky things like “vaginas love Kalamazoo.” And then in a rare showing of sincerity Crow pointed out that his wife was in the balcony, holding his son in her arms, and that this was the first time he had heard his daddy play. Ahh. Inevitably there were some sound issues, and on the softer, midtempo tracks such as “Soaked” and “Boo” the mix was off and a tad mushy, and Smith’s vocals overpowering; however, there was no lack of that glorious Pinback subtlety and layering, and the epic, fan favorite “Grey Machine,” and the rocker “AFK,” which closed the main set, were solid and viscerally electric. They came out for a five-song encore and in total the boys were on stage for nearly two hours. The energy didn’t falter once, and when it was done I realized that my feet didn’t hurt and my back didn’t ache because I’d been dancing so much. Yes, indeed, Crow and Smith are good for the joints, soothing on the muscles. So I defy thee, Sir, to partake in a Pinback show and not feel as if the fo sho has just been injected back into the rock show. Crow and Smith tour so much in various guises that they had better know how to maintain novelty and energy in a live setting or else their worlds minute-by-minute will have little meaning and fans will disown them despite their basement studio pop perfection. It’s easy to worry that a duo who relies heavily on loops and laptops will be little more than uninspiring on a stage; you are with Pinback, however, in the hands of professionals, so fret not. Lace up your dancing kicks, loosen your elbows, and remember that it’s the quiet ones you need to look out for. Any jerk can put on a frantic show, or a dull show, or even something in between and passable. It takes true masters to be slow and steady and sparkling, and on stage Pinback has the exact refinement of volatility that is the key to this indie girl’s wounded heart.