April 3, 2003

Spring comes to Noyes, bearing guitars

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It seems odd to me to see snow falling once again on lovely old Ithaca. Just a week ago, spring was in the air, the sun was bright, and Pinback — perhaps the ultimate springtime indie rockers — were playing at Cornell. This past Thursday, the Noyes Community Center hosted a Fanclub Collective concert featuring the San Francisco rockers, along with New York City’s Paul Schneider and Cornell’s own Cellar and Attic.

The duo of Cellar and Attic kicked off the show with a set of inventive post-rock, switching off on guitars, keyboards, and a sampler. The pair’s tight, repetitive grooves ebbed and flowed over bleeping drum loops that surprisingly approximated the sound of a live drummer, and they worked up some impressively rocking climaxes from their minimal sound. Their set had the already large audience entranced, and despite some problems with lighting during the performance, the band’s spell didn’t subside until they’d finished.

After a brief intermission, Paul Schneider took the stage with his backing band and completely changed the mood. Playing a set of power-pop and old-school rock n’ roll, Schneider called to mind nearly 50 years of rock history, from the Stones’ countryish rockers to the upbeat rock of Big Star. Grinning into the mic, looking a bit like a young Lou Reed, Schneider belted out an exciting set of originals, his enthusiasm matched only by the raw energy of his band and the audience’s reaction. Schneider was especially great whenever his group really turned up the volume and jammed, as they did consistently throughout the set.

Both openers proved to be an excellent complement to the main event, Pinback. Where Cellar and Attic channeled Pinback’s calmer, more pensive side, Schneider represented the band’s tendency to rock out live; both of these aspects of Pinback came out in the band’s headlining set. Starting things on a laidback note was fan favorite “Versailles,” from the band’s self-titled first album. The band stayed relatively close to the studio version on this simple, evocative piano ballad, but nearly the entire rest of the evening was dedicated to fleshing out and beefing up their normally slow, soft material.

Pinback originally started in 1998 as a side project for Rob Crow (of Thingy and Heavy Vegetable) and Armistead Burwell “Zach” Smith IV (of Three Mile Pilot). These two San Francisco-area multi-instrumentalists formed the group while on hiatus from their full-time projects, but over time Pinback has developed into their primary band. Together with drummer Tom Zinser, who provides some drumming on their records and regularly tours with the group, the duo has released two albums and a handful of EPs, with two more EPs and a third full-length due out later this year. On record, the band’s piano-driven sound is fleshed out with strummed acoustic guitars and the whispery traded vocals of Rob and Zach.

After the restrained “Versailles,” however, the group — supported on stage by several additional musicians — set about proving why they have a reputation as a dynamic, fun live band that is much different than on their albums. They played a mix of songs from their entire back catalogue, as well as a sampling of newer, as-yet-unreleased tracks, and in nearly every case the arrangements were radically different and much more rocking than the album versions. Many songs were noticeably sped up and accented by muscular electric guitars, and both singers frequently burst out into throat-scraping yelps as they seldom do in the studio.

Throughout the energetic set, the band laid down some great danceable grooves, contrasting those moments with passages of pastoral beauty. Rob kept the audience entertained between songs, mumbling incoherently into the microphone and talking about Metroid, comic books, and whatever other non-sequitors he could think of. His comments earned puzzled looks as often as laughs, but it seemed to be all part of the band’s unique charm. The set closed with Blue Screen Life’s “Prog,” already one of the band’s heaviest songs, and amplified into a climactic burst of emotion by the live reading. As the band left for the dressing room, the audience raised a clamor for more, and it was clear that Pinback would shortly be returning to the stage.

Within a minute they did, for a three-song encore that was, if anything, even more energetic than the proper set. The band slashed through three songs, including the Some Voices EP’s remarkable “Manchuria,” with virtually no pauses, ending the concert on a dramatic note. The band filed off with a polite “thank you” and the audience cleared out into the cool spring air, satisfied with having seen a great show. And the rest of the spring promises many more such moments, as the Fanclub Collective’s spring line-up features Exit Ocean, Deerhoof, Q & Not U, and Enon, among others. Check out www.rso.cornell.edu/fanclub for more info.

Archived article by Ed Howard

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