Everything seems to be in play at an Ariel Pink live show. He could crowd surf with an insane smile on his face. He could play a slideshow of female celebrities that morph into each other. He could curse out the entire audience before attempting to pee on stage. Only one of those three did not happen (Hint: it’s the last one). Born from his well-documented issues with performing (both from a reception perspective and an organizational one), there seems to be an air of tension before the diminutive Angelino takes the stage.
Friday night at Webster Hall was no exception, as the packed crowd jittered and made awkward small talk with each other, one eye always glued to the stage. There was also a couple for who the wait was too much, and they started to make out wildly, much to the chagrin of their neighbors in space. Finally, after a not-unreasonable period of time, Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti band hit the stage.
Smartly taking from the project’s latest and best album, Mature Themes, Pink and friends played a mostly solid, never uninteresting set that mined the tropes that make him one of the more fascinating artists currently going. He was never going to please the crowd; long extended outros full of reverb and the curious omission of fan favorite “Round And Round” made certain of that. What the crowd was treated to was his brand of California-tinged lo-fi freak pop, and for those expecting it, it turned out to be quite a thrill.
“Symphony Of The Nymph” started the set with a rather creepy projection of tongues in the background, befitting the song’s overt (perhaps parodic) sexual themes. Speaking of themes, the mature ones explored in the title track sounded phenomenal live, as would be expected from the best song of that album. Pink stepped up to the occasion by crooning its sweet chorus of improvement: “I wanted to be good/I wanted to be good/I wanted to be good, my baby.”
Elsewhere, songs from previous releases like 2010’s loved Before Today shone for their slightly weirder cacophonies, including those sounds created by Pink both slamming the mic against the floor and, in one memorable instance, playing snake by unhinging his jaw to chomp down on the microphone. Pink was always going to be the highlight of the band, with his (to put it lightly) quirky charisma and Bat For Lashes-reminiscent pink hairdo.
However, his band is a finely tuned machine of noise and melody; despite looking like the most bored person on the planet, the drummer was on point, playing off the frankly amazing bass lines in the band’s repertoire. R. Stevie Moore played along, doing his best to up the silliness to a blue-bearded level of cowbell slamming. It was a fitting addition to a show that operated at a weird level from the start, before ratcheting it up to heights reserved for Pink’s curious nature.