Pinetop Seven could easily be a pretentious band. They play music that defies any easy categorizing – the term “noir” comes up in a lot of descriptions and their songs are often called “snapshots.” A band, no, an ensemble that works with “found sounds” and has generated a lot of buzz for improvising a score to a black and white silent film (The Wind) at our own Doc Films. If you roll your eyes at the idea of tone poetry, you might not be inclined to follow up on Pinetop Seven. That, however, would be a shame.
In the back room of Schuba’s last Saturday, Pinetop Seven put on a sincere, thoroughly aesthetically pleasing performance. The six members who currently comprise the band all produce idiosyncratic sounds – the lineup includes an upright bass, a sadly underamplified cello, and a trumpet. One of the guitarists played a spookily understated slide and the drummer played with a tambourine rigged above his cymbals to add jangle.
The resulting sound is evocative of back alleys, songs that wind eerily, but still ultimately sound like coherent songs. One might not expect a cinematic band playing photographic material to sound so musical, but the members of Pinetop Seven play together exceptionally well.
Which is also why it was a shame that they played at Schuba’s. Most members of the audience were not unappreciative as much as obnoxiously expressive of their non-appreciation. Lead vocalist Darren Richards gracefully sidestepped requests to “take it off” from the same corner of the room that emitted high-pitched tongue trills between songs. This is not by any means a physically unattractive band. That is not the point.
The audience appreciation for opener Sharon Wright might also be indicative of their lack of taste. Wright was described in an Onion ad as a performer who sings, “like her soul is on fire,” but as far as I could tell, she just blew a lot of smoke. On a red backlit stage with hair melodramatically tousled until the front of her head was indistinguishable from the back, Wright seemed to have confused herself with a less interesting version of P.J. Harvey. The fact that her voice could alternate between a tender whisper and a Grace Slick-esque vibrato was worthy of interest until it degenerated into obvious gimmick.
Comparatively, Pinetop Seven with its conservatively dressed members and straightforward stage demeanor gave a much more captivating performance. Which goes to show that a lack of shtick can go a long way – even so far as to give an ensemble with avant-garde influence a mass appeal.