Pinback Bring Unmistakeable Sound to Venue

Oakland’s Judgement Day play what they describe as “string metal”; such is the name of their official website. They are Anton Patzner on violin, his brother Lewis on cello and Jon Bush on drums. Both of the brothers are classically trained and have toured and appeared on dozens of other artist albums such as Bright Eyes, Cursive, Two Gallants, Slash, dredg and Pinback, as well as philharmonic orchestras, symphonies and operas. Anton Patzner has composed and performed on several indie film soundtracks. They all look to be in their mid-to-late 20s.

Yes, Judgement Day plays what you could call speedy metal riffs. They also play proggy instrumental breakdowns. I hate to overuse the term “atmospheric”, but that’s what it is. There were a few foot-stomping bluegrass moments too at last week’s show at Venue Nightclub. Their visual backdrop was a tasteful mix of scenery and videos which can be found on their website, such as the clever ‘Violin Hero’ Guitar Hero parody in “Cobra Strike”, a sped-up, two-hour painting session of a building being razed.

Mid-way through their set, both brothers’ bows started looking rather frayed and worse-for-wear, but this didn’t affect the sound. It was also interesting to see the loop effects and pedals they manipulated, and Bush playing an orange 16-litre bucket attached to his drum kit which he may have rescued from a fast-food chain dumpster. Anton Patzner also sang/hummed a part into the pick-up microphone of his violin.

I don’t think the crowd quite knew what to make of their incredible musicianship and sound. Sure, there will be the Apocalyptica comparisons but these Californians show their own diversity and experimental tendencies. A recent interview with Anton suggests that he will be looking into expanding the instruments found on their albums as he has found the current arrangement limiting.

Pinback came on shortly afterwards and were joined by the string-playing brothers for the first two songs which included “True North” from their fall-released latest album Information Retrieved. Pinback are known for unique “clockwork” style musicianship. Things sound mechanical and mathematical yet human at the same time. Besides drum machine tracks, everything is organic. Their sound is really tough to have to describe to someone who has never heard them before – “Uhhhhh… indie groove-rock with different time signatures and unique melodies?” But then again, I think of groove-rock more like that of Clutch or Red Hot Chili Peppers or some of those Queens of the Stone Age tracks… Just listen for yourself.

Armistead Burwell Smith IV (who goes by Zach) strummed his bass much more like a rhythm guitar – playing lots of powerchords while also finger-picking out some more intricate scales. He also switched back and forth between bass to a Korg electronic organ/keyboard (often during the same song) for several tracks including “Sender”.

Vocals were traded between Zach and guitarist Rob Crow, a rather burly-looking bearded gentleman who wore a black-metal band t-shirt and suit jacket. His well-loved guitar was missing a knob, duct taped and had a black resin-type substance on the pick guard strumming region. Rob’s guitar parts were usually a mixture of chords and melodies that circle the bass and drums, creating a sound much greater than three people. It is “wanking” in a good way. They were joined by touring drummer Chris Prescott.

Several songs in, Zach had to leave the stage to work out some problems with his bass or microphone. As banter, Rob asked the crowd if anyone knew of the best place where he could get a vegetarian poutine, to which people replied “Fritz” and “The Naam”.

Throughout their set, images of nature scenery, album photos/lyrics and film clips and were displayed behind the band, courtesy of Rob’s iMac. There was also the hilarious fan-produced video for “Good to Sea”, with the actors looking like Rob and Zach but also a bit of Jay and Silent Bob.

“Someday I will sail again to a distant shore, far away”, Rob spoke through his guitar’s pickup for a line on “Boo”. He then put down his guitar for the upbeat “Fortress”, dancing a jig, wading into the crowd and tangling up members of the audience with his mic chord. It was amusing to see him enthusiastically do jumping jacks and the worm across the stage, losing his cap in the process. The crowd also cheered loudly as he chugged several Newcastle Brown Ales in between vocal deliveries.

Pinback closed with the excellent “Syracuse” off of 2004’s, and my personal favourite album, Summer in Abaddon. Constrained by prior time restrictions imposed by Venue management, Rob asked for a crowd vote on what they wanted to hear for their encore—“new, old, or a mix of both?” Fans opted for a mix. The duo decided on “Glide, Prog”, and fan favourite “AFK”.  I couldn’t help feeling a bit angry and embarrassed when the ugly lights came on at 11:15 and Pinback and Judgement Day were forced to quickly pack up their gear to get on with the Venue Tuesday night dance party…