Saturday Night: Pinback Sorts Through the Chaos at Bottom of the Hill

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Beardo!: Pinback at Bottom of the Hill on Saturday night.
Pinback
JP Incorporated
January 1, 2011

Better than:
Not distracting one's self from a seething hangover.

Sometimes it sounds like Pinback's Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV are singing completely different songs, one of them meditatively chanting in spirals, the other waxing in a seemingly dissimilative key and meter, one that's oblong and alien. It's counterintuitive stuff, but a bridge here and a plot twist there -- and voila! The vocal arrangements come together like a swirl cone's peak. This is when Pinback can be sublime in the most un-Sublime way.

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The San Diego-based band, which started out as something of an answer to the beachy reggae-rock of late '90s SoCal, has evolved into one of the more reliable outfits on the West Coast, steady on the touring and recording fronts since 1999. Crow and Smith have struck modest gains on each album since This is a Pinback CD, onward to the slow-pop of Blue Screen Life, the more complex arrangements of 2004's Summer in Abaddon, and 2007 release Autumn of the Seraphs. And here they were in 2011, playing in the still-decked halls of Bottom of the Hill on New Year's Day, remnants of the previous night's festivities a stark contrast to the no-frills aesthetics of the sample-free, electronics-wary five-piece onstage.

The band's sound revolves around the virtuoso bass scheming of Smith, but the Venn diagramming vocal dynamics of both main members are the conspicuous focus of the live show. Crow, a Jack Black look-a-lot-alike -- a guy you'd expect to find in a comic book shop debating theories of the time-space continuum -- sings with his face, wincing to hit higher notes, closing his eyes for expressive effect, and bending his cheeks for inflections unexpected. It's an emo cry at times, but without the actual crying. Smith plays the foil effortlessly -- soft-spoken, all business, and usually supplying the backing vocals. (Drummer Chris Prescott pushes the clever Pinback percussive element forward, and keyboardists/guitarists Braden Diotte and Erik Hoversten flank Crow and Smith, trying to stay out of their way for the most part.) 

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Major props to the band for a comprehensive and tireless set spanning 22 songs only a day after the band played a 2 a.m. NYE gig in Reno. (Crow: "We played with a bunch of DJs and MCs ... Nothing against them but they sounded like shit"). Due diligence was paid to old favorites such as "Loro," "Tripoli," and personal first-round pick "Penelope," a song that holds up despite the high school Spanglish line "I'm diving down with all my gear / In search of treasure, para mi Corazon." (It sounded much less cheesy way back when, for some reason.) "Walters" waded through dragging moments for dramatic vocal overlaps. Set closer "AFK" seemed an appropriate choice, its "Protect/ Embrace/ Engulf" chants interwoven with complex bass noodling and somehow serving as the calm of a storm, an attempt to make sense of a brave new world of chaos, which seems to be what Pinback is all about. The indie force is still strong with this band after more than a decade; there's even a new album around the corner (foreshadowed by one new song here, with few signs of departure from their core sound).

Crow's dry wit found its way into a friendly back-and-forth with a Tourettic crowd impatient for Pinback hits. For whatever reason, people demanded "How we Breathe" ad nauseum, which was good, but just good live. 

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JP Incorporated
Opener JP Incorporated, a cheeseball extraordinaire, might have made more sense as an opener for Daniel Tosh, but he captured the crowd quickly with a stream of ironic exclamation points. A grower and a shower, this one, JP Inc. came out dressed in the suit of a sleazy car salesman underneath a fake Abe Lincoln/bum beard. He stood next to a screen displaying random props: fake advertisements for a vehicle-instrument hybrid called the Jazzbot Extreme, a Ron Burgundy-esque fake ad for the "Action City News" team (on Channel 11, of course, they're "No. 1 twice!") -- all the while speak-singing over jazzercised instrumentals. A faux PSA championing strangers and their dark vans and "best candy" felt right, and a sendup of the Nickelback-type rock band featured "Crap Factory," with a drummer who "bashes the shit out of (his drums)!" reminded us what we were about to not see.

Setlist

1. The Hatenaughts of Melancholy Wall
2. Soaked
3. Non Photo-Blue
4. Microtronic Wave
5. Penelope
6. Bouquet
7. Sleep Bath
8. Trainer
9. Bloods of Fire
10. How We Breathe
11. I'm a Pretty Lady
12. Tripoli
13. (new song) 14. Good to Sea
15. Fortress
16. Loro
17. Walters
18. From Nothing to Nowhere
19. Prog
Encore: 
1. Boo
2. Devil You Know
3. AFK

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A T-shirt from Pinback sideproject Goblin Cock

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Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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