By Henry Smith
We were running late. We had just flown off of Beverly Boulevard and onto Highland Avenue. Reasonably zipping through yellow lights, our chance to arrive early to the Pinback show had been blown. This was going to be a special show considering 2014 marks the ten year anniversary of the band’s third record, Summer in Abaddon. To celebrate the album’s decade of life, Pinback hit the road playing the whole thing front to back. This was the second to last show before the band closed the tour in their hometown of San Diego. Finally locating a bare stretch of curb on South Burnside Avenue, my roommates and I bickered over whether we had just found a valid parking spot as the clock struck 9:05 PM – five minutes into Tera Melos’ supporting set at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
“If I get a ticket, we split it, alright?” My roommate, Andrew, needed a little security before leaving his Beamer parked where it was. The “NO PARKING” signs were left indecipherable, like most are in West LA. After a couple seconds of sheepish silence, my other roommate, Lucas and I begrudgingly agreed that we would share the burden. We left the BMW to its own devices and hustled over to the El Rey’s main entrance on Wilshire Boulevard.
I didn’t know that much about the Sacramento trio, Tera Melos, as the three of us hurried into the seductive, red-draped ballroom of the El Rey. My senses were quickly overstimulated as I took in the sights and sounds surrounding the band. If you’re tardy and sober, the live music of Tera Melos forks over a bite that takes a while for your ears to chew on. Fortunately, they leave visual bits to devour while your eardrums digest. The first thing I couldn’t help but notice about the set was the image they chose to project behind themselves. Loudly displayed for the crowd to see was a somewhat urgent photo of a stuffed human body with a large plush hot dog jabbing out of the neck hole. I understand how confusing that description may sound, but there is really no other way to put it (I’ve scratched several other sentences). Tera Melos soared through their jagged set as guitarist/vocalist, Nick Reinhart and bassist, Nathan Latona were viciously driven by drummer John Clardy – who seemed to be going for the “William H. Macy in Boogie Nights” look.
The recorded work of Tera Melos carries a positive, pop-punk cheer over sharp tempos and neck-braking rhythms. The live sound, however, is much darker. Scrambling between pedals, barbed guitar leads, and keyboards, Reinhart maintained the bands’ unpredictable tone. His soft, murmuring voice barely penetrated the menacing wall of noise his guitar was responsible for, therefore toning down their sunny hooks. But this was hard to hold a grudge against because of how sturdy this fucking band was. A beat was neither missed nor skipped by the choppy trio. The aged crowd attempted to bob along to Tera Melos’ fickle time signatures but would always end up casually flailing before trying, once again, to get back on tempo.
Since the band’s birth in 2004, Tera Melos have inspired countless mathy, punksters who strive to resurrect the bereaved genre of pop punk. A lot can be said about breathing new life into such familiar hooks and chord progressions. Growing up in Portland – where pop punk is as loved as it is hated – local bands are always listing Tera Melos as one of their influences. Though, in Los Angeles, math-rock grooves look to be less appreciated than traditional mid- tempo punk. Only a small pocket of sweaty mosh was swirling around to the left of stage.
Tera Melos continued to wail away through their forty five minute set stopping only once to thank the crowd. Speaking into the air two feet to the mic’s left, Reinhart took a moment to mention how happy they were to be touring with a band that they grew up listening to. Again, this was hard to hear as he yelled this, acoustically, over the giggling crowd. After a round of applause, the band launched into what felt like a climactic show stopper but, instead, played for another fifteen minutes. As some dedicated hooligans would continue to flail about, I felt that Tera Melos missed their opportunity to leave us wanting more. The band laid down a jaw dropping breakdown that left us all mesmerized and grinning. This would have been a perfect time end the set. Mighty, mathy, and impressive as all hell. But they kept going. Tera Melos played two or three more songs, unable to match or raise the energy of that insane musical crackup. I suppose after a decade of indie success, you aren’t necessarily looking to leave people hungry anymore. As fazed and appreciative as I was to finally check out the controlled chaos of Tera Melos, I was left bored. Not put off, just bored. I expect nothing but great music and a responsive fan base from the band, but they should be careful with their live energy. They are ten years older (as are their fans who used to be piss drunk and watching them in a basement in Sacramento).
Speaking of older folks, Pinback definitely took their sweet time with their soundcheck. The El Rey provides a Twin Peaks like red curtain to hide the stage between bands. I went to the restroom where a man in the a cummerbund handed me a paper towel to dry my hands. I had never been given this service before and almost started laughing. I was at a Pinback show, for Christ’s sake! Los Angeles jumps at every possible opportunity to make things swanky – even taking a piss at a little club. After returning to Andrew and Lucas, we sat, criss-cross, on the floor and waited. It was relaxing to observe the once 2004 “Cali” teens all grown up. Pinback’s two main players, Zach Smith and Rob Crow, were a silver lining at a dark time for pop-culture and music. Despite their appearance on The OC’s soundtrack, they managed to stay pure and unassuming during those fucked up years of spiked bleached tips and puka shells. While Smash Mouth and Good Charlotte are left nothing but a couple royalty bucks from TeenNick every once in a while, Pinback still has a small but loyal crowd eager to hear those humble pop tunes.
Finally, the lights dimmed and the scarlet curtain slid open. As advertised, Pinback wasted no time and chugged right into Summer in Abaddon’s slow-moving opener, “Non Photo- Blue”. Bassist/vocalist Zach Smith and guitarist/vocalist Rob Crow were joined by long time drummer Chris Prescott, who has played in several other San Diego punk projects like No Knife, Fishwife and Rocket from the Crypt. The three of them looked like they had all been picked out of three different bands and placed on a stage together. Smith, a mild looking man in a tight black v-neck, looked like an acoustic guitar shop employee. Crow, a big guy with a big beard and a big belly, embodied a 40-year-old bully dressed in all black with a green baseball pulled down over his eyes. These two parents of Pinback looked especially interesting in front of Prescott, who wore the face, haircut, and intensity of an early Colonial settler. It looked pretty sweet.
Heads were bobbing and vibe was good. Pinback flew through Summer in Abaddon with well rehearsed ease and passion. Sounding as true to the record as they could, Smith occasionally jumped on the keyboard for songs like “Sender” and “Bloods on Fire”. A highlight from the album, of course, was the album’s hit “Fortress”. Crow scrambled to put down his guitar and pick up a flying-v style, heavy metal bass before the song began. Mere moments passed before some idiot yelled out, “Yeah! DOUBLE BASS!” Obnoxious? Yes. Inaccurate? No. They played a couple of tracks with double basses going.
Midway through the set, I suddenly noticed how many paper airplanes were flying around. Some were hitting the stage and some weren’t. The band seemed to ignore them. I figured the same “DOUBLE BASS” idiot started throwing them, and then everybody started throwing them. It wasn’t until after Summer in Abaddon was finished when I realized what these paper airplanes were. Pinback started to unfold and read the airplanes that had landed on stage. They were song requests! Apparently, Pinback had posted the following online before the tour began in September:
THE PAPER AIRPLANE IDEA
Excited about the Summer In Abbadon tour in a couple days!
If you’ve seen us before, you know that we usually play pretty long sets and as SIA is only 10 songs long, we weren’t sure what else to play, so we came up with The Paper Plane Idea.
At the merch table at every show there will be felt pens and recycled paper on which you can write down whatever song you want us to play, fold it into a paper airplane, and throw it at us during any part of the set.
After we finish with SIA, we will pick from them randomly and play whatever they say (provided, of course, they it is one of the 43 or so songs we feel confident in playing). We encourage people to bring them from home, use origami, or just be crafty in general!
See you in a few!
This was a much more entertaining way of requesting songs than people yelling “Freebird” all god damned night – can you believe people still do that?
“This is the scary part of the show,” admitted Smith as he was tuning his bass, “What songs do they wanna hear? Do we still know how to play them?” Pinback got the obvious requests out of the way like “Penelope” and “Good to Sea”, all accompanied by visuals and music videos projected on the same screen where Tera Melos’ stuffed, hot dog man had been.
There wasn’t too much rocking out or head banging this evening but respects were paid. Nothing but cherished appreciation from the old fans was being tossed through the room. Another notable track of the night was “Boo” off of their sophomore album, Blue Screen Life. The audience roared as the familiar opening chimes started playing. Thankfully, no lighters were waved but bodies were swaying. The slow simple ballad certainly didn’t sound thirteen years old. That’s when I realized how timeless this damn band was. These songs really held up. But why? Both singers are bland and nasally, the guitars are clean and indistinct, and the drums just seem jam on the same three beats. But isn’t that just it? Hailing from a decade of over- saturated recordings, modeled voices, and the digital takeover, Pinback kept their music painfully simple. No risk of selling out, no risk of fading away. Now, ten years later, they aren’t has-beens. They are just a couple of dudes playing the same great songs.
Pinback’s minimal stage presence and slow galloping grooves did spawn a couple of yawns from the crowd. Towards the end of the set, the energy relied on which hit they would play next. However, they kept their encore short and said their goodbyes. As the houselights came back on, I immediately felt nostalgic. Those songs were so comfortable. I wanted to live in them just a little bit longer. I looked over at Andrew and Lucas who were smiling, stretching, and yawning as if they had just eaten a satisfying steak and mashed potatoes. I felt the same. Pinback was nothing new, and nothing special to look at. Minimal fun with simple charisma. With that said, this tour was an eye-opening step for Pinback. They had nothing to prove, but somehow they proved that time is still, very much, on their side. Mr. Smith and Mr. Crow have gently eased into becoming very unassuming professionals. No mistakes, no bullshit. They are now no longer on tour and have no outspoken plans for a future record. No new tracks have been released since their pleasant but humdrum 2012 release, Information Retrieved. Could they call it quits? Absolutely. Should they call it quits? Not necessarily. Pinback fans are tame and grateful. They aren’t the savage, demanding, barnacles that turned Billie Joe Armstrong and Rivers Cuomo into useless, graying turds. Just as they were years ago, Smith and Crow are creating without pressure and without image. Whether this tour was a secret farewell, or a hint at a new release, the iron is still somewhat warm for the Pinback boys. My weary roommates and I returned to the beamer on Burnside Avenue and found no parking ticket. It was a swell night.
Pinback have no plans or announcements regarding new music or tours. Tera Melos have just announced a November tour supporting Circa Survive and Title Fight along with Pianos Become the Teeth.