Show Review: Pinback and Ghetto Blaster at Bottom of the Hill

Originally published on December 28, 2011

Pinback with Ghetto Blaster :: 12.17.11 :: Bottom of the Hill :: San Francisco, CA


Pinback by Annelise Poda

Alternative indie band Pinback played a bustling sold out Saturday night show at Bottom of the Hill. Fans packed the venue on the outskirts of San Francisco for an intimate performance from the San Diego band that has impressively been creating music for the last 13 years. Pinback has definitely learned how to put on a great show during their years of touring, and they treated the crowd to a tightly wound set of crystallized guitar melodies and explorative bass parts, all threaded between beautiful two-part vocal harmonies. There wasn’t a bad vantage point in the house, and the audience happily soaked up the organic riffs emanating from the three-piece band onstage.

The opener for the night, Ghetto Blaster, played a set with a much rougher edge than the breezy natural sound associated with Pinback. Even the band’s name suggests that they would be playing harder music, and it seemed like a strange choice to have these groups booked on the same night. Both bands were from San Diego, and that is where their similarities stopped. Ghetto Blaster ground out fast-paced, punk-influenced tracks with riotous drum fills and distorted, rogue guitar chords that bled into sustained picked out melodies.


Ghetto Blaster by Annelise Poda

Lead singer Ryan Foxe had two very opposite vocal ranges, as he alternated between high pitched screaming and simply talking out his lyrics, and the middle ground that would have greatly improved the tracks was nowhere to be found. The instrumentation was engaging and energizing to listen to, but the distracting and rambling vocals monopolized the main focus. Ghetto Blaster would have fit much better on a bill with other punk or harder rock bands where audiences would have expected the raucous atmosphere, but there wasn’t very much crossover interest from people that had come out to listen to a night of chilled out music.

Pinback guitarist Rob Crowe took the stage to one fan shouting, “Nice beard!” He definitely has put some time into growing his abundant facial hair, but right when he started playing it was obvious that he’s spent much more time working on music. Crowe and fellow Pinback co-founderZach Smith played together with expertise and precision that was unmistakable from the first note. Pinback’s core songwriting team usually performs with a backing band to flesh out the full and vibrant sound that can be heard on their recorded works, but for this tour they decided to strip down their live show and only bring along drummer Chris Prescott to round out the trio. This minimalist setup was great to experience in a small venue like Bottom of the Hill, as you could see the chemistry unfolding between the musicians onstage. Crowe’s rhythmic strumming fig snugly into Smith’s bass and piano parts which often broke off into melodies of their own but always circled back to cushion the flowing vocals. All of these differing notes came together in such a perfect way, and it was great to be reminded that the basic elements of songs are usually the most amazing way to experience an artist’s music – the core of what makes great songs great.


Pinback by Annelise Poda

Pinback played a wide variety of music that spanned the length of their discography. Crowd favorite “Good to Sea” inspired many people to sing along with the cheerful chorus. “Torch” completely absorbed the audience, as many people closed their eyes to be fully taken over by the river of interchanging melodies surging from instrument strings and vocal chords. The opening guitar notes of “Fortress” brought out a hearty cheer from the crowd, and Crowe and Smith really got to show off their harmonizing skills during the bridge as they sang alternating lyrics in a round, creating a beautiful cyclone of sound. Crowe stopped playing his guitar and solely focused on singing out his half of the words, and the audience broke out in a clapping rhythm to appreciatively add their own element to the song.

The band also previewed a couple new tracks from their highly anticipated upcoming 2012 album. It’s been five years since their last album and people were very excited to hear some fresh selections. Both Crowe and Smith have many other bands and side projects they are involved in, so there hasn’t been a drought of musical output from them in the past few years, but it will be exciting to see what their latest collaboration will be like. This tour gave people the chance to hear Pinback’s classic songs in a different light, and fans can look forward to checking out new material that will be a part of future setlists. Hopefully they’ll kick off another tour right after releasing the album so that fans can come back out and see how their songwriting has evolved.


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