I often hear Three Mile Pilot described as influential, but it’s hard to say what that means. Since their ’90s heyday as a pillar of San Diego’s indie-rock reputation, nothing has sounded quite like the music made by Armistead Burwell (“Zach”) Smith IV, Pall Jenkins, and Thomas Zinser — except perhaps Black Heart Procession, Pinback, and the other bands they formed in more recent years.
Even those bands don’t sound all that much like Three Mile Pilot. On the band’s much-loved ’90s records, Smith’s bass-playing was excellent, but he rarely played the kind of complex patterns that would become a trademark for Pinback (and his other project, Systems Officer). Jenkins’s singing was always emotional, but he didn’t give a lot of indications that he’d turn into the dark prince of Black Heart Procession (nor that he’d one day pretend to be a senior citizen while leading Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects).
To hear them tell it, Smith and Jenkins were as surprised as anyone when their side projects quickly overshadowed their main band. One thing led to another and more than a decade had gone by without anything new from Three Mile Pilot. The trio, augmented by Kenseth Thibideau and Brad Lee, reunited for a fantastic series of shows at the Casbah in 2009. Over the next two years they released the keyboard-heavy full-length The Inevitable Past Is the Future Forgotten and Maps EP. Neither sounded all that much like either Three Mile Pilot or any of the other associated bands, but they’re really good. Maybe that’s what people mean when they call the band influential: Three Mile Pilot influences people to like everything the band does.
THREE MILE PILOT: Belly Up, Saturday, August 25, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20.