Seeing Pinback live this evening was an impromptu decision because I had no idea the show was taking place until about two hours before it actually started; at the time, I was so immersed in my schoolwork that I hadn’t been keeping up with rock shows very well. Thus, despite the fact that I exceeded the speed limit during the entirety of my trek to Austin, I still got there late, arriving right in the middle of local openers Rhythm of Black Lines’ set. This didn’t bother me much, though, because the band had left a sour taste in my mouth after seeing them in 2001, when the amazing Electro Group opened for them at Stubb’s. The majority of the crowd had come to see the openers, and Rhythm subsequently played to the less than 20 people who stuck around afterwards. Although I could understand why the band would be pissed, they handled it in a completely unprofessional manner, cursing the audience in between songs and ending their set by walking off stage mid-song in a collective temper tantrum. Although Rhythm of Black Lines weren’t as cranky the next couple of times I saw them, I still got the impression while watching them that they would have rather been anywhere but on stage.
This evening was probably the first time the band looked like they were HAPPY to perform, and it made a big difference. It also helped that their sound had noticeably improved since the last time I’d seen them. Their musicianship, although always impressive, was no longer the main selling point, as their collections of long-lined guitar riffs were coming together to form actual songs with discernible hooks. No longer content to be Yes-aping musos, the band now leans closer to the simmering, sophisticated prog that 90 Day Men have perfected with their latest album Panda Park. This shift can be attributed to Rhythm’s addition of a keyboardist, which has made them a quartet for the first time since the band’s inception. Singer/guitarist Clint Newsom has grown more comfortable with his high, warbling voice, although it has to be said that the keyboardist still has a more pleasant voice (unfortunately, he only sang on one of the songs). Overall, I was very impressed with their set this evening, and I’m a bit more eager to see them live again than I was before.
Another local band, the American Analog Set, played on the bill, and I was stoked to finally see them. Through the last couple of years, I had missed show after show of theirs due to various reasons, most of them involving being too broke. The band definitely did not disappoint, laying down grooves more seductive than can be reasonably expected from a group of white indie-pop dorks. Seriously, though: if there were a rock band that I could ever consider making love with someone to, it would be the American Analog Set. All of the elements of their sound --- clean guitar strumming, chiming vibraphones, thick bass lines, droning organs, and simple rhythm --- manage to be both propulsive and soothing. You can dance to their music just as easily as you can fall asleep to it. The only bands I know of that approximate this band’s aesthetic are Yo La Tengo (particularly their last two albums) and Stereolab. The former group, though, is too enamored with dissonance and the latter is too enamored with jazz. However, the American Analog Set is pure, streamlined, undiluted mood music. They didn’t even interrupt the flow with stage banter or long between-song breaks. They simply walked on stage, played, thanked the audience and left.
It’s rare that I attend a show in which the headlining act is the one that I’m least familiar with. Until this show, the only Pinback release I owned was their most recent Offcell EP --- which, while good, wasn’t enough to fully convert me. I went to see Pinback mainly out of respect for Rob Crow, who had become one of my musical heroes through his sterling work with humorous math-pop bands Heavy Vegetable and Thingy. I was shocked to find out that in Pinback, Crow is actually the second banana. The REAL star of the show is singer/bassist Armistead B. Smith IV. Crow’s and Smith’s voices are so similar that if I hadn’t seen the band live I wouldn’t know who sang what. However, not only does Smith sing most of the lead vocals, but he also plays some of the most incredible bass lines I’ve ever heard. Picture a fusion of Les Claypool’s technical chops and Paul McCartney’s melodic skill, and you’re not even close. This man can play whole chords and multiple melody lines SIMULTANEOUSLY with his hands while singing in a shockingly calm and collected manner. Arrangements that on record sound like a bass and two guitars playing with each other were played single-handedly by Smith, leaving Crow to add simple yet effective vocal and instrumental embellishments. The five-piece touring lineup fleshed the band’s songs out nicely, with a real drum kit adding rock power that the loop-based studio versions lack. The set focused mainly on songs from Offcell and Pinback’s previous album Blue Screen Life. Between songs, Crow joked with the audience in an intentionally irritating and babyish voice while Smith thanked the audience repeatedly and took many requests. Pinback played for a REALLY long time, but there wasn’t a single bad song in the set. I was worn out by the time they did an encore, but I was enjoying myself too much to leave before the club closed.