Ariel Pink. Bluebird Theater. 02.14.15
According to the Interweb, Ariel Pink is indie rock’s most hated man. He is a misogynistic troll who defends the rights of sexual predators and has the nerve to criticize Madonna. He is a living, breathing meme. He claims to be the male version of Grimes, but the female version of Grimes thinks he’s an asshole. He says the wrong things every time anyone asks him a question…and he does nothing to fight back against the people who want to paint him as a blight on society. A lot of that stuff seemed to be taken out of context, so I’m not sure what’s true and what’s not, but I honestly didn’t know about any of it when I decided to see him perform at the Bluebird Theater. I guess my celebrity gossip feed was just too full of Kanye West quotes to notice anything about Ariel Pink. To my knowledge, he was just some eccentric, cross-dressing dude from Los Angeles who liked to experiment with pop music. Everything I had heard from the guy came in the form of lo-fi tape recordings. He was an artist who developed a following with his unique ability to deconstruct music from the 70’s and 80’s. He had a gift for extracting the essence of a Top 40 single and using it to give life to a Frankenstein sound that was something entirely modern, but also haunted by the ghosts of dead radio waves.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Ariel Pink’s music before the show, but I could appreciate it for what it was. I found last year’s critically acclaimed pom pom incredibly interesting, but almost unlistenable. It reminded me of the first time I listened to music that wasn’t on the radio – a cassette tape of (Who’s Afraid Of?) The Art of Noise!. This wasn’t because Ariel Pink sounded anything like the English synthpop group, it was because, like the Art of Noise, I enjoyed the experience more than the music. The lo-fi production, the schizophrenic changes in sound, the high-pitched samples and the ridiculous lyrical content made pom pom almost painful past the first spin, but I still enjoyed the journey through it. It was something I could appreciate, even though I might not return to it. The fact that the material could be performed live, with a full band, intrigued me enough to bring my wife to the show on Valentine’s Day. I had her browse a few photos of Pink, then I gave her a little background on his credentials, and then I played the new album for her. She was less than thrilled, and I sympathized with her, but I had this strange feeling that her tone would be much different after experiencing him live. Fortunately for my marriage, my feeling was correct.
Being Valentine’s Day, we had a romantic slice of pizza and a couple cocktails at the Atomic Cowboy before the show, but we arrived to the Bluebird just in time to see Pink scramble through the lobby with a 16″ standing fan in his hand. He wore studded high heels, striped balloon pants, a deep v with a sparkly cat on the front, and his usual bleached-out mop hanging from his head. “That was Ariel Pink, did you see him?” I asked my wife. “How could you not?” was her response. That fan ended up on the stage, pointed directly at the microphone. It’s sole purpose was a one-liner delivered by none other than Don Bolles (formally of Germs, now Ariel Pink’s drummer and comic relief). “In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Ariel Pink brought one of his fans on stage to blow him.” And that’s how the show began. A show that would be dedicated to all the couples and all the singles. The venue wasn’t quite at capacity, but it was pretty full — full enough for Pink to declare it a sold-out show before opening things up with “White Freckles”.
The song about the tanning salon had my wife laughing. The fairytale about the frog prince had her rolling her eyes. But there was a “romantic theme” to the night and “Only In My Dreams” and “Put Your Number In My Phone”, backed up by a pretty incredible five-piece band, had us both dancing along as if it really were a pop concert. Then “Four Shadows” took its place in the set the way King Diamond would take his seat at a midnight Mass. It was the first metal-tinged song of the evening, and with his completely capable band backing him up, Pink proved he could pull off a dark lord character as well as he could any pop princess of the 80’s. It was at that point in the night when my wife leaned over and whispered “so this is what being bipolar sounds like.”
Bolles promised “nothing but love songs” for the duration of the evening, but he proved to be exaggerating quite a bit. Sure, “One Summer Night” was quite lovely, but it was followed by “Fright Night (Nevermore)” (communicating with the dead), “Not Enough Violence” (very violent), “Lipstick” (showers of blood) and “Black Ballerina” (antagonizing a stripper), all of which were amazing live, but weren’t exactly filled with Hallmark approved sentiments. There was one point, during the crowd sing-along “Sexual Athletics”, that I thought Pink and his band might leave us in the correct mood for such a holiday, but then they followed it up with an AC/DC inspired version of a song about Satan and Houdini. The good news is, we were still in for an encore.
“Jello-o” is code for drugs. He sang a song about it. The song included where to go to get the Jell-o, which was kind of him. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” is a song about being on those drugs. I’m not sure it made you want to be on those drugs though. I have no clue what “Goth Bomb” is about. All I know is that those were the songs Ariel Pink decided to close his Valentine’s Day show with. No “Round and Round”. No “Bright Lit Blue Skies”. Not even “Picture Me Gone”. Ariel Pink was not going to make it easy for those who brought dates to his show. He didn’t reveal any misogynistic or trollish tendencies, in fact he seemed relatively normal the whole night, but he also wasn’t going provide songs to slow dance to. Despite his fabulous attire, this wasn’t prom. It was an Ariel Pink show. Lucky for me, my date actually enjoyed it. We both walked out of the Bluebird with the kind of satisfaction that only comes from a truly entertaining show. We listened to pom pom on the way home and it sounded better than it ever had before. It’s still not an album I would recommend for the uninitiated, but I would recommend seeing Ariel Pink and his band. They are true musicians in every sense of the word. And despite some of the cringe-worthy things he might say on the Interweb, the frontman in the studded heals is much more than a living, breathing meme.
Exile On Frog Street
Only In My Dreams
Put Your Number in My Phone
Dayzed Inn Daydreams
One Summer Night
Fright Night (Nevermore)
Not Enough Violence
Early Birds of Babylon
Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade