On Monday the comic book nerd Rob Crow spent some time at Marvel headquarters in Midtown Manhattan checking in on various superheroes, before joining his Pinback partner Zach Smith for a semi-reunion of their own dynamic duo.
After a few years of nurturing children, various side projects and living life, Crow joined Smith to return with the album Information Retrieved in October. As Monday’s performance at Irving Plaza showed, the band has not lost an ounce of the wicked beauty that made them so appealing in the ’00s.
Weaving through songs from their entire decade-plus catalog, Pinback was intricate, meticulous and perfectly in sync, as their complex guitar riffs and dueling, sometimes clashing, vocal harmonies placated the anticipation of eager fans.
From the hushed opener of “Victorious D” to the hopalong energy of “Good to Sea,” the band played to the crowd, yet thoroughly enjoyed themselves. During the song “Fortress,” Crow dropped his guitar to play frontman, pounding a beer, doing the robot and diving into the crowd to sing the final chorus.
Bassist Smith, however, was a bit more reserved. For two musicians so aurally in lock-step, the couple make for a slightly comical visual contrast. The burly Crow wore his natty beard, a baseball cap and a long jacket. Smith, who has a medium build and close-cropped hair, wore slight stubble and a wrinkle-free V-neck t-shirt.
The contradiction in appearance corresponds to the oddball appeal of the group. While most rock performances replicate the climactic experience of a rollercoaster, listening to Pinback is more like a tennis match. The pleasure comes from watching Crow and Smith feed off each other and the tension that exists between their instruments.
Far from the indie rock bands of the past decade, the call-and-response style of Pinback has more in common with the bluesy grooves of Captain Beefheart and the deliberately stubborn rhythms of the so-called “math rock” bands from the Nineties. It’s this devotion to their signature sound that has helped them endure while confounding those who try to pigeonhole them.
From “Tripoli,” off their 1999 debut, through 2007’s Autumn of the Seraphs and their most recent effort, the band seemed completely at ease with the material, putting to rest any doubts that they might be done for.
Coming out for an encore, Pinback dipped into their 2001 album Blue Screen Life for the tune “Prog.” Then, with a simple “be safe,” Crow and Smith exited the stage for what fans hope will not be another five years of kids and solo projects.
For Crow, being a proud papa trumps chasing some elusive concept of fame that might come with a more accessible record. He has stated his desire not to be famous, but “infamous.” For now, he seems to be enjoying himself, which might be the most important measure of success.