Sitting innocuously on a chair in the center of the stage, Tim Kinsella opened the sold-out Pinback show with a brown, leaf-inlaid ’70s Guild S100 on his lap. To his right, a Fender Twin Reverb amp had a mic held in place with black electrical tape. To his left, a red velvet-lined guitar case sat opened, extra cords strewn about within. Kinsella’s approach to songwriting is immediately recognizable to any who are familiar with his style, and his influence still permeates the various levels of indie rock to this day. Many of his compositions enlist a formula of new age or classical style playing, mixed with frequent harmonics and time changes, but played with a nascent sensibility that was keen to the ears of listeners who first heard him in his youth.
Kinsella is a man with a quiet affect, but through the course of his set only one thing seemed to be an unspoken request: the respect of the audience in front of him. Early on, he made reference to how his brother Mike (who played with Tim in the lauded Chicago indie/emo bands Cap’n Jazz and Joan of Arc, and has fronted his own projects American Football and Owen) was known for getting surly with an audience during his sets. I saw Mike perform as Owen once about eight years ago, and his temperament was mild compared to that of Tim by the time he left the stage. Almost the entirety of his audience interaction was humorously self-aware, if not self-deprecating in his segues between songs as he promoted his records and recently released book with self-imposed futility.
The only time Kinsella became vitriolic was when, during his very last song, an obviously disinterested drunk girl standing directly in front of him said to her boyfriend during conversation that something was “SOOOO amazing.” Though it was certainly unrelated to the man on stage, it was just one of many infractions made by a distracted audience there to see the headliner alone. Tim stopped immediately, and asked the rhetorical question: “Have you ever had someone stand in front of you while you’re working and tell you that what you’re doing is SOOOO amazing?,” mimicking the girl’s derisive emphasis in the process. The audience laughed, the girl was red-faced, and for but a brief moment, all was right in the world.
Hours before the show was set to start, the announcement was made that it had sold out. This is great news for the bands involved, and when I was waiting for everything to begin I witnessed multiple people walk away from the door stunned that they were not able to gain entry. However, while this was happening, the venue only had approximately 40-50 people inside. Even while Kinsella played an earnest set of electric guitar arrangements, only an audience of about 60 watched, while one equal to that swarmed around the bar. Not until the time Rob Crow took to the stage with Pinback was the venue finally filled to a swampy capacity.
It’s not really enough to call Pinback an indie rock band, but I fight to find the proper adjectives to even describe them. The group’s albums often delve into the nuances of sounds not typically touched by those to which they are compared, and the multi-instrumentation of both Crow and co-founder Zach Smith is played with a beautifully rigid accuracy. In a live setting, the harmonization among their instruments is a ballet of sound that coasts among the room, enhanced with the booming force of their amps. Formerly downplayed and mellow songs like “Penelope” become an anthem-like force of singalongs fueled by a braying guitar, throbbing bass and a drum set being hammered like the audience could be watching a metal band.
A projector shone over the trio for the entirety of their set, flashing brief cuts from various videos and films, including John Carpenter’s Dark Star, a film from which the band derives their name. To my enjoyment, the 90-minute set consisted of a large cross-section of the band’s discography (dating back 13 years) and contained about half of my personal favorite, 2001’s Blue Screen Life. The floor was amassed with sweaty twenty-somethings who stood, swayed and occasionally bounced through the band’s entire time on stage, each song played raising the temperature of the room by a few degrees. By the time the band finished, there were visual waves of heat dancing up to the ceiling from the heads in the audience.
If the sold-out show is any indication, Crow and Smith have a built-in audience for years to come.
by Greg Stitt
Photos by Todd Zimmer