Pinback + Aqueduct
24 May 2005: Irving Plaza New York
I listened in bed to this voice singing these numbers for months and months. I was in college and had just started dating a photojournalism major named Kathleen and was attracted to her physically as much as I was to her talent and taste. Each time I spent the night at her house, she would put on this amazing mix tape a musician friend had made for her. It opened with Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” before segueing coolly into Air’s “Playground Love”. The third song I had never heard before. The bass and the guitar seemed to be repeating the same scales over and over. The chorus was made up of a non-sequential number pattern and a repetitive, “da da da da da da.” It was probably the simplest song I had ever heard, but it was impossible for me to shake it from my head. Kathleen had lost the tape’s jacket and play list, making it difficult to track down whose voice was lulling me to sleep each night. A month went by before I found out the song was called “Loro” and the band was Pinback.
Rob Crow and Zach Smith, the two core members of Pinback, were born to make music together. The composition of their music relies on their voice’s ability to pick up just where the other left off. They piggyback one another through the peaks and valleys of their songs, one taking a breath while the other focuses on the road ahead. Like a leveled scale, their music perfectly balances the use of resonance and dissonance. Their melodies are as taut as the bridges on which their songs are built.
I am skeptical about the venue for the show this evening, as I assume Irving would be too vast for a band like Pinback, but I am proven completely wide of the mark when I walk into the main room to find it packed wall to wall with lovers holding hands and first dates making small talk.
For a band as gifted as Pinback at forging seamless melodies and perfecting pop sensibilities, they certainly need coaching on finding suitable supporting acts to take on tour with them. Aqueduct is not only bad; they are laughable. They open with a crowd-pleasing cover of the Geto Boys’s ” Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta”. But when Aqueduct proceeds to play some of their self-proclaimed “loud stuff” before heading into the “soft stuff”, I curse the no re-entry policy and begin to wish I had arrived late. Whenever the crowd gets too quiet for their liking the band asks how pumped everyone is to hear Pinback tonight and before the roar from the crowd dies down takes the opportunity to ask if “everyone fucking loves Aqueduct!” Transparent? Incredibly. Desperate? Even more so. When they break out a second cover during their opening slot, this time rolling the dice with R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”, I am not only bored, but offended. And I don’t even like R. Kelly.
When Pinback takes the stage and save their paying audience from a Jackson Five cover, I encounter the loudest reception for a band since I moved to New York. They open with “The Yellow Ones”, a track off their latest album, Summer in Abaddon. Heads begin to bob and people begin belting out the lyrics with as much familiarity as an Abercrombie frat boy at a Dave Matthews Band concert. During the course of the night I see heads all around me duck slowly to the floor to be replaced by plumes of sweet smoke. There is so much neglect of New York’s smoking ban occurring this evening that the room looks like it is being filled with a smoke machine for effect. If a cover of “Crash Into Me” comes through the speakers I am convinced I will charge the stage.
There is something to say about a band that is strongly aware of their fans’ favorite tracks especially when they don’t have the Billboard Top 40 to consult the progress of their “singles.” But as the opening of each song the entire night billows from the speakers, it is met by the manic wailings of at least a small group of admirers in the audience. Everybody in the crowd this evening seems to have been appeased and heard the “one song they hoped to hear.” There is a girl behind me who I imagine punching in the face as she sings along to every single word all night long. She begins talking about the acoustics of the building and I dismissively pass gas in her vicinity.
“3x0” sounds beautiful tonight, and “Concrete Seconds” is slowed down a tad so it comes off like it is being recited in iambic pentameter in perfect cadence. As soon as Smith picked up a bass to accompany Crow, I may be the only person who knows what is coming. “Loro” isn’t as tight as some of the other songs this evening, but is special nonetheless. I consider calling Kathleen but decide such an offense could be construed as incorrigible as the behavior of the karaoke contestant reject behind me.
When the band comes on for their encore, they faithfully deliver “Grey Machine”—another song I was hoping they would play. They nail all eleven minutes plus of the song faithfully, capturing every measure perfectly, including the fade-out coda with indiscernible muttering and traffic noises. I start singing and in a moment of pure hysteria decide to sing beside my obnoxious neighbor, but she is nowhere to be found. I am sure she stuck around for the encore somewhere that didn’t stink of grass or my ass. When the lights come up and I head outside, we are pleased to feel the night embrace us in the spring warmth. Life, for a moment, seems as simple and as beautiful as that song I fell in love with years ago. Like Mr. Kelly says, “Can I get a toot toot. Can I get a beep beep?”