Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On stage, two-piece fails to capture studio magic

Pinback is a two-piece of multi-instrumentalists Rob Crow and Zach
Smith, but on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Metro they were joined with an
extra guitarist, keyboardist and live drummer. You'd think that the
backup musicians would add some oomph to the band's often-delicate
material, but on this night it mostly disrupted it. I spent most of
the show thinking it would be much better with just the two of them
up there playing guitar and bass with synthesizers doing the rest of
the work. (Or maybe a drummer).

The five of them couldn't seem to get on rhythm. The show started off
with the vocals completely off balance: Crow's were nearly
unintelligible and Smith's were too heavy (forcing numerous people in
front of me to turn to their friends and cringe whenever Smith sang).
Once the band worked through those initial vocal kinks, they settled
into some up-tempo renditions of their slower material, and it sounded
like it was working. The songs had a force they lacked on record.

But when they embarked on their bouncier material — namely "Good to
Sea," "Penelope," and "Fortress" — the tempo change backfired on them.
They rushed through them with an immediacy I can only assume was an
attempt to get the crowd more involved. Thing was, it didn't work at
all. The audience didn't seem to know how to handle the sped-up
versions, so they just stood there as motionless as they had
throughout the entire set.

The only song they hit stride on was "From Nothing to Nowhere," the
first track off the band's most recent release, Autumn of the
. Of the group's entire catalogue, it's perhaps the one
track most fitting to be played by a full five-piece lineup, and you
could hear it.

There were other gripes. The guys have absolutely no stage presence,
so much so that Crow had looped different responses such as "Thank
you," into his keyboard so he didn't have to actually say them himself
after each song. And they didn't touch any of the choice cuts off
their first album, tracks such as "Tripoli," "Shag," or "Crutch."
Songs that, despite the fact they were recorded nearly ten years ago,
are three of the band's best.

Crowe and Smith obviously have talent — respected indie label Touch
and Go Records wouldn't have put out their last two albums if they
didn't. They can both play just about every instrument on the stage,
and Crow, a burly everyman, has an unexpectedly amazing voice that
shines much more while he's on stage than it does on record.

After 80 minutes of watching them live, though, you realize that
whatever magic this band has exists when it's just the two of them in
the studio. And doesn't leave it. - Jeremy Schnitker