So you're standing there on the floor of the Gothic, stroking your beard or dancing ever-so-subtly, watching Pinback play in equally subdued fashion. All around you and onstage, folks are so chill that you're wondering where they hid the bong. And then the guitarist suddenly breaks character and begins moonwalking across the stage. And the crowd goes wild.
This was one of the few unexpected moments from last night's show at the Gothic Theatre, which was otherwise something like a Pinback album. Two men with electric guitars and bass with a drummer playing metronome-perfect rock songs with jazz chords, featuring Zach Smith's inimitable style of strummed bass, with him switching vocal duties with guitarist Rob Crow. Every song was technically flawless, rarely speeding past 80 beats per minute.
The songs leading up to Crow's OMG-worthy breakdown followed the above mentioned formula. Beginning the set with lesser-known track "Victorious D" (from 2003's Offcell), Smith and Crow settled into a vibe that could favorably termed "slack emo," which is to say the duo borrows heavily from the weird lyricism and anti-rockstar guitar licks that made 1990s-2000s acts like Built to Spill and Joan of Arc so intriguing. With few exceptions, every song sounded like a crowd favorite. New tune "True North" and early track "Tripoli" followed, with the band backdropped by a massive video screen showing, alternately, B-grade 1960s sci-fi film clips and circa-1920s astronomy vids.
A funny thing happened around the fourth song. "Offline P.K.," the opening track to 2001's Blue Screen Life, got damn near everyone in this capacity crowd moving. Funny how one song can turn the audience around. Thing is, this kept happening whenever Smith and Crow would play songs from that album.
It was a seminal record for this genre, but still -- Blue Screen Life is a full twelve years old now, and Pinback's released some worthy material since. Old listening habits die hard though, I guess. Any time one of that record's songs came on, kids shuffled their feet more. To the extent that tunes from Blue Screen Life were hits, the crowd was there to hear them.
Darkness then ensued, however. New track "Diminished," from last year's Information Retrieved, featured lines like, "Don't feel so worthless." At times, Smith and Crow -- both mid-range vocalists -- sounded as if they were straining a little to hit higher notes. The guys played effortlessly, but they did not sing or look onstage like a team of road dogs.
Which might explain why Crow did something else so unexpected halfway through the gig. Right after playing a song, the guitarist, who had theretofore engaged in zero onstage banter, said simply, "I have to go pee." Totally out of nowhere. Then he walked off the stage, presumably headed for the men's room.
Smith, bemused, thought to entertain the few hundred people in attendance with a song from his side project, Systems Officer. He played "Signature Red," a dead ringer for a Pinback tune, and, three or four minutes later, Crow rejoined him onstage and apologized. (Granted, by this time he had consumed maybe half a dozen Newcastles on stage). There were still more antics. At the beginning of Blue Screen Life standout "Boo," Crow shouted into his guitar pickups, making a scratchy, old-time radio sound.
Then the true weirdness began. "Fortress", from 2004's Summer in Abaddon, was the closest thing to disco that fans were likely to hear last night. Crow dropped his guitar, moonwalked, did the inchworm (!!!) and then hopped his girthy ass down into the crowd and walked through the audience.
In an especially ambitious feat, he attempted to walk to the upstairs balcony, but the mike cord wouldn't reach that far. Near the end of the song, he asked fans to hold the mike for him as he ran through a side door to the stage and retrieved it.
"Thank you guys so fuckin much!" he shouted right before leaving the stage soon after, marking the end of the show. And then, in what must be the longest, most awkward encore-baiting absence I've seen in a long time, Pinback returned for another four songs.
Personal Bias: Count me among the fans who were only there to hear songs from Blue Screen Life and Autumn of the Seraphs. "Good to Sea" is good stuff indeed.
Random Note: Who the hell was the Mardi Gras-beaded Dancing Queen in the crowd last night? I know Fat Tuesday's not for a couple weeks, but damn, girl -- this ain't a disco.
By the Way: Rob Crow likes scary music.
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