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March 15, 2013

Pinback's addition by subtraction

Pinback, a melodic indie rock band, is back on tour. But this time with fewer people

LESS IS MORE: Nine years ago I saw Pinback, a melodic indie rock band, in Atlanta at the now-defunct Echo Lounge. Pinback shared the bill that night with American Analog Set, an indie pop band.

Pinback’s principal players — Armistead Burwell Smith IV (known as Zach) and Rob Crow — had added touring musicians to fill out the live performance. Immediately after the set, a divisive discussion between friends began with two clear opinions: some were disappointed that the often lush and beautifully composed Pinback songs were played at a faster tempo and the grooves weren’t as smooth as the recordings, while others appreciated it for being, well, a live performance.

I was of the latter opinion, because it was like I was hearing the songs that I had loved and memorized remixed. When Pinback performs at New Brookland Tavern tonight, Smith and Crow will only be joined by drummer Chris Prescott.

The three piece alters the band’s live dynamic.

“With the five-piece thing, we hired a couple of friends of ours to play our extra parts,” Smith said. “That was when things were a little more raw, a little more crazy because you had five people going at it.”

Fewer people on stage means fewer distractions, enhanced volume control and more space — on the stage and between the notes. Pinback uses programmed music for the extra parts.

“We felt it’s actually helped a lot,” Smith said. “Things are played right every time. There’s a certain, I think, more focus on the three piece.”

The change was made when Pinback toured Australia, weighing the cost-benefit ratio of bringing extra musicians when factoring in plane tickets and hotel accommodations.

“It kind of stems from financial reasons, but it kind of became a thing,” Smith said. “We were happier that way.”

Pinback released “Information Retrieved,” its first album in five years, in October. Pinback is consistent in mounting rhythmic layers and placid vocals. Before teaming together, Smith played in Three Mile Pilot and he now releases solo music as Systems Officer. Crow has participated in a bevy of projects, including Heavy Vegetable, Thingy and Other Men.

Smith, who plays bass, uses fretwork traditionally associated with lead guitar. Actually, some of the bass parts sounds like guitar parts.

“A lot of people will come up and say that, ‘I thought all that stuff was on a guitar.’ I get that almost every night,” he said. “I like the traditional low end, keeping the groove going. That sort of the shaped my playing.”

Crow, who plays guitar, is also the primary lyric writer and vocalist. Pinback settles into pockets when Smith is counter singing. Recording is a shared process, which might explain the gap between albums.

“I think you need time and what I mean by time, is events to happen, things to happen in your life that puts you in the mood. But nothing specific,” Smith said.

The band, which originated in San Diego, will perform Tuesday on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” JP Incorporated, which performs theme songs for TV shows that don’t exist, opens at New Brookland.

Fans of Pinback have their favorite songs (I know I have mine), but inevitably some people leave shows disappointed because it’s impossible for the band to play the bulk of its catalog. ( Loro and Penelope,” of course, are on the setlist.)

“On any given night, we play 22 songs, so 45 of our songs aren’t going to be played,” Smith said. “It’s hard to please every one. We get in trouble no matter what we do.”

Like when they played songs faster. In Atlanta, it was admittedly strange to hear “Penelope” as if it had been injected with caffeine.

“It’s definitely a lot slower,” Smith said of the set’s tempo. “But we don’t just want to play the CD. It’s boring to us. You don’t want to just duplicate the CD. It’s different. If you want it to sound like the record, stay home and listen to the record.”

There are moments in Pinback’s music when there is so much — stacked vocals, keyboards and guitars — going on in the mix that it would sound chaotic to attempt a re-creation live. Besides, any rational music fan should recognize that live interpretations require a different kind of energy than what’s heard with ear buds.

"They’re just two different beasts and it’s cool that we treat them separately," Smith said.


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