Harmonies Retrieved: Pinback Brings the Bliss-Rock Back to Grog Shop

Pinback, Deathfix

9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5

Grog Shop | 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd.

216-321-5588 | grogshop.gs | Tickets: $15

In the mid- to late-'90s, Rob Crow and Armistead Burwell (Zach) Smith IV were twin orbiting stars in the galaxy of the San Diego music scene. Revolving in bands like Thingy, Heavy Vegetable and Three Mile Pilot, the two multi-instrumentalists were regularly looking out for new opportunities, new sounds.

Thankfully, for them and the rest of us, they found each other and started making music.

"It took a few weeks, but we both always wanted to be able to record our own songs," Crow says, calling in from the road. He and Smith would go on to form a little band called Pinback, which is currently on tour and headed toward the grimy streets of Cleveland Heights. But back in 1998, ambitions were tied more closely to four-track players and drum beat machines.

"We just started screwing around with that, and we were like, 'This is what we should do!'" Crow says. With voices sweet like honey, the duo began writing songs that imprinted an ontological worldview onto rapid-fire synapses. Crow fleshed out most of the lyrics early on — still does, really — and set to work on a unique harmonic-driven string sound.

The band's latest album,

Information Retrieved, dropped in 2012, continues the uber-catchy, harmonics-based music from the past. It's a continuation of the themes first laid down on albums like Summer in Abaddon.

Opener "Proceed to Memory" rekindles the band's well-worn badge of soothing melodies and the contrasting crescendo of the chorus. Like most outings, Crow takes vocal duties here, flexing his practiced tone. Similarly, during "Glide," Crow's vocals lay out against a backdrop of different time signatures.

The whole album, in fact, dishes up the same beauty that originally garnered the band renown. And as evidenced by past appearances, all that good stuff translates very well to the stage. Pinback replicates the studio takes quite faithfully, lending credence to Information Retrieved's sprawling majesty and digging back into the archives for the songs that have supported their tenure in the indie-rock scene.

In 2007, "Good to Sea" became a bit of a mega-hit off the album Autumn of the Seraphs. It's got all the ingredients that make a terrific Pinback tune, but it's taken several notches further along the belt of uber-catchy pop hooks.

For years, the duo was accused of playing its music live at a much-too-fast clip. "Good to Sea" was, unfortunately, a great example of this for a while. Tempos shifted into super-high-gear onstage, leaving many fans wondering what in the hell was going on. Part of the allure of Pinback's catalog has always rested in the band's ability to patiently suss out the beauty in the melody.

The band is a big fan of playing out at the Grog Shop. The last several times they've rolled into town have been outstanding, energetic (though 2011's show was, indeed, plagued by that whole tempo thing).

It seems that with Information Retrieved, the band took a moment to regroup after having been out of the studio for so long. The polished results are sure to be heard throughout this current tour.

"When I'm done with a record, I'll probably listen to it for a month, but then I'll try to forget about it," Crow says, adding that songs from the past take on new flavors as time goes on. They evolve slightly — become "cooler" and more mystical, he says — and blend into the ethos of the band. Then, of course, new stuff gets written and the cycle begins anew.

As the years roll on, Crow and Smith are in less and less of a hurry to churn out the Pinback goods. They've still got their hands in a variety of side projects. For instance, Crow is busy conjuring up a live band for the solo material he's written. He's also the writer/director for the upcoming "cock-opera" Dragonfucker.

There's also the family factor: Crow and Smith are both fathers, as is touring drummer Chris Prescott. That, of course, precludes the band from buzzing along at the same youthful speed they once did (though it seems like they just can't be stopped). Crow says that his wife and three kids are the best parts of his life; he feels the pull back to his home every second he's on the road. And while the tour is consistently fun — it's all part of the dream he and Smith cooked up so long ago — his world is represented in many different ways now.

But even considering the side projects, the families, the ever-winding road, Crow and Smith have never strayed from the patently Pinback sound they've worked to cultivate.

At once, the whole of Pinback's catalog is both expansive and atomized. On the surface, the band's sound is what it is, and can be gleaned from a simple run-through of the latest LP. But to those willing to fall deeper into outer space, the Pinback universe is really something to behold. Clevelanders will get a dose of that when the duo drops in for a danceable night on the town.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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