Jan. 5 2011 10:54 AM

Pinback return to where (and how) it all began

Rob Crow (left) and Zach Smith are stripping Pinback down to a two-piece.
Photo by Drew Reynold
Pinback are evolving.

It’s inevitable with any band. In Pinback’s case, it’s happened before—over 10 years and four full-length albums, the two-man team collaborating on a home computer has steadily snowballed into an indie-pop phenomenon with a full backing band and notches on the Billboard charts.

The most recent change comes three years after Autumn of the Seraphs, the San Diego band’s most successful release to date. After the album’s release, co-founders Rob Crow and Zach Smith took a break from Pinback, each turning his concentration toward side projects (Mission:Valley and Systems Officer, respectively). But over the summer, in the midst of working on a new album (no release date yet), Crow and Smith quietly embarked on a small tour to try out a new approach to their live performance: The Rob and Zach Show.

The idea: Release the baggage accumulated throughout the years and start again from scratch, giving audiences a glimpse into the arrangements and the energy the band’s songs had when Crow and Smith first wrote them.

But, as Crow says in an e-mail interview, there’s also a practical aspect to the change.

“As The Rob and Zach Show, we can play any song of ours we want, at any time, at any place, instead of renting practice places and wrangling all of our crew from wherever they are in the world at the time and trying to fit a couple tons of equipment on a plane,” Crow says. “It also creates a more relaxed atmosphere in which we can talk to the crowd or each other, without the stress of holding up one of the other guys, and is also a great excuse to play more of our ‘deep cuts,’ b-sides and tour EP songs.”

It seems simple enough in theory, but recreating the Pinback catalogue for two people is a daunting endeavor in practice. A fondness for acoustic guitars and bass, equally as integral as any keyboard or drum machine, creates a deceptively minimalist gloss over dense layers of angular math rock and soft, dreamy melodies. The solution: stacks upon stacks of recorded tracks, with which Crow and Smith are able to create a world of sonic possibilities while paring the band down to a handful of instruments and a skeleton crew.

It’s a technique that’s bound to draw skeptics. “This is not to say that we just play to a CD,” Crow notes. “We’ve made full multi-track backups that can be mixed live appropriately for each venue, with synched video accompaniment. … Everything is triggered manually and also frees us up to randomly grab whichever of our instruments—any combination of two basses, two guitars, two keyboards, synths, baritone and acoustic guitars, et cetera—at a brisk pace.”

An added benefit of this new rediscovery: Along with the labor of reworking and relearning their songs for the summer tour came the reward of being able to play whole albums straight through. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. During the past year, album tours have exploded as trend among bands established enough to have defining albums. But for Crow, it’s less about trends and more about doing something special for The Casbah, the venue that’s supported Crow and Smith through every transformation, bringing home the two albums that first put Pinback on the map—This is a Pinback CD and Blue Screen Life.

“When asked by Tim Mays if we could do something for his anniversary shows, we thought it might be fun do just that,” Crow says, referring to the nightclub’s longtime owner. “We’d make a couple days of it by playing these songs at the place they were played for the first time and in a fun, relaxing environment.”

Will the crowds, also accumulating over the years and potentially having certain expectations for a Pinback performance, support the newer, leaner stage presence? Crow seems confident that there’ll be something in the new shows for Pinback fans of all types.

“We have a contingent of people that want to hear our live sets sounding ‘more like the records,’ and those people will be appeased in heretofore implausible ways—although, much like a regular Pinback set, other songs will be wacked out.”

It’s not the first evolution of Pinback, and it probably won’t be the last. But with a new year ahead and a new album on the horizon, the future looks bright—no matter what shape it takes.

The Rob and Zach Show will perform This Is a Pinback CD at The Casbah on Monday, Jan 10, followed by a performance of Blue Screen Life at The Casbah on Tuesday, Jan 11. JP Inc. will open for both shows. pinback.com