Pinback Venue, Vancouver, BC, January 22

Pinback Venue, Vancouver, BC, January 22
Photo: Steve Louie
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As the San Diego duo of Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell Smith IV hit the stage with regular contributing drummer Chris Prescott, Pinback were also joined by cello and violin. The strings added much to a fleshed-out version of "Victorious D" from their 2003 Offcell EP and helped capture some of the studio magic of "True North" from their 2012 album Information Retrieved. The strings left the stage two songs in, as the band started into "Tripoli" from their 1999 debut album This Is Pinback. It was clear from the start that material both newer and older was going to receive equal weight by the band this evening.

Their visuals were an interesting mélange of old pictures and stock footage ('50s cars, musical toys, Venus fly traps, lawn chair balloonists), alongside clips from the classic sci-fi films that have so clearly shaped their career (1974's Dark Star, 1962's Planeta Bur). Occasionally, some of the lyrics appeared in their slideshow, synched up rather perfectly care of a MacBook. They even had the good nature to play a fan created video for "Good To Sea" (from 2007's Autumn of the Seraphs), where two guys with incredible facial hair wander around a park and pretend to jam. Although, for entertainment purposes, one needed look no further than Rob Crow.

Performing as lead vocalist and guitarist much of the night, Crow was a perfect frontman. As he chugged several Newcastle Brown Ales, he emoted with angst and vigour whenever he sang, then he'd turned around and play his guitar with his teeth for "Boo" (from 2001's Blue Screen Life). He even did the worm across the stage for a more electro version of "Fortress" (from 2004's Summer in Abaddon), wandering through the crowd with his long mic cable snaring people behind him and shoving the mic into the faces of different audience members for each word of the song's chorus. When there was a sound problem 15 minutes into their set that required Smith to leave the stage, Crow covered by leading the crowd in a surprisingly passionate debate on where the best vegetarian poutine in Vancouver was, and then thanked them for letting him stall.

Unfortunately, Crow's vocals were often a little quiet in the mix, but the group's technical efficiency was evident. Prescott held it down tight on the kit. Whenever he wasn't hamming it up, which wasn't that often, Crow was solid on guitar. Smith was probably the most impressive, though, playing complex progressions and strumming full chords on the bass, bending his instrument's sound beyond what one normally expects as the boring end of the rhythm section.

However, one of the most jaw-dropping moments came when Smith sat down at a Nord keyboard to play the piano lead for "Diminished" (from Information Retrieved). Though the thoroughly enthusiastic fans far preferred their order material, as conclusively proven by a poll Crow took before their encore and their unsatisfied reaction to his declaration that "June" and "Grey Machine" were off the requests table, the band seemed more effective and engaged the more they got away from the late '90s alternative sound and more into the timbral variety of their newer material. They have progressed over the years.