Soundtrack for adventure

Chico shows up for the complex pop of Pinback

Pinback frontmen Zach Smith (left) and Rob Crow.

Pinback frontmen Zach Smith (left) and Rob Crow.

Photo by Jason Cassidy

Pinback and Morricone Youth, Friday, Nov. 30, at Sierra Nevada Big Room.

Rob Crow has been in a ton of bands. The San Diego multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter has been the creative force behind so many—Heavy Vegetable, Physics, Thingy, Optiganally Yours, Goblin Cock, to name a few—that it’s natural to assume that he’s always the bandleader. But the most enduring project over his two-plus decades of music-making has been Pinback, the adventurous singing/songwriting partnership with him on guitar and fellow San Diego-based musician Zach Smith on bass.

Witnessing the band live for the first time last Friday (Nov. 30) at the Sierra Nevada Big Room, I came to realize how balanced of an effort it really is, as the two traded lead vocal duties and seamlessly orchestrated the complex musical interplay that is the hallmark of the band’s dense version of indie-pop.

The night’s opener, New York City’s Morricone Youth, creates—according to its mission statement—“music written for the moving image,” and since 1999 its various members have rescored or reinterpreted the music from hundreds of films and TV shows. The five-piece kicked off this night with a scene from George Miller’s 1979 dystopian classic, Mad Max, projected on a screen behind them as they chugged out an insistent soundtrack to scenes of Goose flying down the highway on his Kwaka motorcycle.

The band accompanied a handful of different silent and midnight-movie excerpts for the night’s set, and the Mad Max selections and the moody tunes that played alongside the original Night of the Living Dead scenes—with spooky organ, circular riffs and howling/operatic vocals—were the most engaging. There were some cool musical and visual moments in between (especially the gorgeous shadow-puppet images from the 1926 German silent animation, The Adventures of Prince Achmed) that didn’t marry the mediums as effectively, yet nonetheless offered plenty of isolated pleasures.

The movie screen stayed out for Pinback’s set, and a series of drawings, images, random footage and even a couple of the band’s music videos played out in a fairly coordinated manner over the course of an epic 21-song set in front of a full house at the Big Room.

The headliners eased into things on a very chill note. To start, the two singers traded vocals on the delicately beautiful early track, “Boo,” followed by a couple of subdued stunners from Summer in Abaddon (2004)—“Soaked” and the loping “The Yellow Ones”—that had many in the very enthusiastic crowd singing along.

Pinback hasn’t released a new album since 2012’s Information Retrieved, so the set was wide open, featuring a range of tunes from across the band’s catalog. The most current selection was the recently released one-off Pinback track, “Roji,” which was included on Joyful Noise’s Rob Crow Artist in Residence box set, a 10-record compilation featuring new songs from a dozen of his various projects. “Roji” punched up the energy in the middle of the set and was followed by one of the band’s earliest and most catchy tunes, “Loro” (from the self-titled 1999 debut), with its circular bass and guitar melodies joining gears with the irresistible “Da da da duh-da da da da …” refrain that the crowd sang sweetly along with.

Summer in Abaddon received the bulk of the attention, with seven songs in the set—including the looping album- and encore-closing “AFK” and my favorite of the night, the lush pop masterpiece “Fortress,” which featured Crow exchanging guitar for bass for a second layer of bass melody over which the two frontmen showed off their masterful and irresistibly tuneful vocal interplay while drummer Chris Prescott provided a hard-hitting rendition of the shuffling groove.

It was a very promising scene for Chico, with a huge crowd coming out for adventurous music at the brewery. Here’s to more to come.