Thursday, September 27, 2012
When I first heard that Ariel Pink had cancelled his show on Tuesday, the first thoughts that came to my head were of the stories of his odd stage shows that sometimes just end abruptly because of “sore tooths” etc. It’s sort of what you sign up for when you’re dealing with an artist that makes incredibly odd music. Then when I heard on Thursday morning that the concert was still on, my confusion as to what kind of shit show I might be in for started to peak. There were supposed to be two openers on the night but Body Guard couldn’t make it. Maybe they got word in the morning that the show was back on, and maybe like some concert goers they had already made other plans. Dam Funk opened the show and certainly did his job of warming up the crowd with some electro boogie space funk. His final freestyle vocals about some girl that’s dissing him on the internet by posting photos of her and her new guy on Instagram and Facebook was pretty intense, but was a good cap on a very energetic set.
In between setups I noticed Ariel Pink with his recognizable pink shorn hair, a punk rock Prince Valiant, working his own merch table. Perhaps he lost his merch person along the way on his tour, but it just fed my curiosity as to what we were about to see. Recently there had been some turmoil in the band as his drummer was fired, who then turned around and sued them for songwriting credits, something to the tune of a million dollars. Ridiculous. When Ariel did hit the stage he had not only transformed himself by donning a ladies silk purple bath robe and little boy shorts, but he seemed to have a completely different energy shuffling onto the stage. They broke into “Symphony of the Nymph” to the delight of the crowd, and established Ariel as a weird sexy frontman with his band mates, Kenny Gilmore on keys and guitar, and the talented Tim Koh on bass, while two new touring mates were on guitar/keys and drums. Very quickly though the show started to take twists, which started with Ariel yelling at the sound man for more vocals, and continued with some of the other musicians pointing wildly at their instruments, I began to wonder if they even got a proper sound check. They went through a set that consisted mostly of songs from the new album Mature Themes, but it wasn’t until they called an audible and decided to go straight into “Round and Round”, their hit from their previous album “Before Today”, to get the crowd back who seemed a bit sluggish. They were on edge because I believe they weren’t exactly sure how to receive these songs, which are very complicated, lots of key and time signature changes from a front man that seems completely out of it on stage. You might think that right before he went on he took whatever necessary medication he needs to be on stage, but I suspect that his persona is purely genuine. He’s just a weird dude. The sound issues affected the audience indirectly because the band seemed so perturbed, but also Ariel’s vocals were never perfectly on pitch.
Seeing a live concert is an interesting experience when you’re dealing with a band that doesn’t play typical rock and roll. Generally those bands get up there, play fast aggressive, and whip the crowd into a frenzy. Ariel Pink sort of lands some where in between that and a psychedelic rock show which generates a lot of noise and “atmosphere”, yet he still jumped into the crowd for some “surfing”. Apparently it’s his thing. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is not your typical band, and that’s why their last two albums have garnered their modest cult following, so you can’t really complain too much when their live show is just as bewildering an experience. At some point near the end of the set some rowdies in the crowd starting yelling for “BABY! BABY!” their Donnie and Joe Emerson soul cover. It’s a sweet, tender song that doesn’t actually sound like anything they’ve done before, and even though Pitchfork were touting it, I wasn’t surprised that they opted not to play it. Instead they ended the night with what I can only describe as a freestyle psychedelic jam. Weird stuff, but we expected no less.
– Michael Unger