He wasn’t at Mercury Lounge on Wednesday night, but Ariel Pink’s presence was inescapable. The lo-fi provocateur’s influence could be felt across a bill filled with musicians he’s collaborated with: original Haunted Graffiti keyboardist John Maus, girlfriend and dance artist Geneva Jacuzzi, and the young, buzz-heavy new band Puro Instinct. There was a sense of the unpredictable in the room, and as to be expected with Pink and his cohorts, and a sense of weirdness to come.
Geneva Jacuzzi led into her set by piping in music for rubber-bodied opening contortionist The Amazing Amy before taking the stage over. A mysterious fusion of goth and vaudeville, Jacuzzi’s stage persona mixed with her songs to come off like a demented Charlie Chaplin fronting New Order. Her performance was quite simple from an instrumental standpoint, relying on prerecorded backing tracks and an onstage mixer, but her mesmerizing combination of crowd interaction and choreography commanded the audience’s attention.
Jacuzzi’s performance set the bar high for John Maus, but as the room filled further and crowded the stage in anticipation, Maus entered and detonated in a way barely suggested even by his impressive albums. He screamed, shook his fists and rammed his microphone into his body repeatedly throughout his well-paced set, ending with triumphant new single “Believer” and making sure to include the newly timely “Rights For Gays.” Although Maus is not directly confrontational onstage, the sheer catharsis in his stage presence came through at a brutal level of intensity. Maus might be personally shy—he rarely made eye contact with crowd members in distinct contrast to Jacuzzi’s stare-downs—but he cuts his emotions loose with such visceral abandon that it seems to superheat the air around him. Even though these songs were also prerecorded and cued live by Maus, he’s such a force of nature that a live band could have been overwhelming. It’s as if you’re watching him perpetually get really close to turning into the Hulk, eyes bulging and veins popping with pure feeling, equal parts musician and nuclear reaction.
Although Puro Instinct was the headliner, the late timing of its set and the fulfillment that came with Maus’s show meant a slightly thinner yet still respectable audience. They couldn’t come close to matching his energy, but the sextet’s summery dance-pop went down smoothly and served as a solid close to the evening. Featuring the sister duo of singer Piper Kaplan and lead guitarist Skylar Kaplan, the band started shakily at first but held together as Skylar steadied her intricate guitar lines and Piper openly paused to figure out what was next on their setlist. The other members of the band were more polished than the sisters, but Skylar’s growing talents left a lasting impression; if Puro Instinct can hold together past the initial hype, it’ll be interesting to hear how she progresses. As a performer and songwriter, Maus was the most memorable part of the night and increasingly appears to be at the top of his game, both on record and in person. But Puro Instinct have a ceiling that they’ve barely scratched, and having people like Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi and Ariel Pink around them shouldn’t hurt in their efforts to eventually realize their potential.
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