Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Better than: Dining on pink slime.
There is always an air of uncertainty before an Ariel Pink concert. Throughout his career the enigmatic Beverly Hills native has been known to have meltdowns on stage, throw fits at sound men, or just plain refuse to sing his own songs. Last night was not one of those shows.
Born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, the 35-year-old musician came into the public eye with a series of mysterious recordings seemingly made at home all by himself on four-track. A dark sensibility; drug-damaged, lo-fi recording quality; and an amazing ear for pop hooks quickly earned him a rabid cult following and led to a record deal with 4AD. His early records were groundbreaking, and early solo shows were usually sloppy and difficult as a lot of his music was considered "unplayable." That is, until he got himself a kick-ass backing band and recorded his breakthrough album Before Today and, following that, the group's second and best record as a cohesive unit, Mature Themes.
Pink was on point last night, leading his band with a bottle of champagne in one hand and delivering his signature vocals with confidence and ease. He made many a noise with his mouth that would make Mike Patton jealous. The night opened with a synthy, 10-minute psychedelic slow-jam that reminded us of early Pink Floyd, warming up the crowd before ripping right into a super-pumped version of "Bright Lit Blue Skies." Pink was manning the mixing board from the front of the stage, bringing in filters and effects that gave the set a live-dubby feel rarely heard in a modern rock band performance.
The set was a sort of retrospective of his entire career, pulling deep cuts from his vast catalog as well as playing "the hits." The older, proggier material masterfully showed off the band's chops, and their slow versions of the newer, poppier material showed the songs to be the modern classics they are. The little guy has really come into his own in his role as bandleader, and it shows: He led a full-house singalong to Pitchfork's No. 1 song of 2010, "Round and Round," and drove the kids mad when he played his newest single "Only In My Dreams." The highlight was the awesomely gothy "Gray Sunset" from his classic album The Doldrums, which sounded like some mutant version of The Cure. In fact Pink really wears his influences on his sleeve, as the band came across like twisted versions of different artists at various times -- including, but not limited to, the Beach Boys, Ween, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, and Ariel Pink (pre-backup band).
Pink's band is one you want to hear in a great-sounding room. The group, known as Haunted Graffiti, has had some lineup changes of note. The always reliable Tim Koh on bass and Joe Kennedy on guitar/keys/backup vocals remain in their respective roles. Multi-instrumentalist Kenny Gilmore has moved from guitar to drums, and Jorge Elbrecht of NYC bands Lansing-Dreiden and Violens has joined the touring band on second guitar and vocals. Gilmore seems to be in Heaven in his new role as drummer, as was made obvious by the huge-ass smile on his face for the entire performance. He's a pretty amazing player. His drums triggered samples of Ariel's vintage drum machine and gave the set a warm, old sound and doubling Pink's vocals. Seeing Elbrecht in Haunted Graffiti was a revelation. His dream-like vocals and guitar playing couldn't have been a better fit. The new lineup brought a fresh and exciting sound to the band that we haven't seen in his previous performances.
Ariel Pink is everything one could want in a pop star. A Brian Wilson-esque sense of arrangement, a bit of Bowie-like androgyny, and a group of top-notch musicians completely nailing his compositions. Just make sure you get him on a good night. We are stoked that we did.