I WAS THERE: And the Hottest Ticket of the Year Is … Ariel Pink?

An old shot of Ariel Pink trying to be Iggy Pop

[Photo by JΔMESON]

Words by Andrew Parks

The Artist & Their Latest Release: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Round and Round 7-inch (4AD, 2010)

The Show: Mercury Lounge, 5.4.10

The Set In a Few Sentences: So we’re still not sure: was Ariel Pink fucking with us last night, or is he always a mumbling, stumbling mess of contradictions? Having never seen his Haunted Graffiti revue before–Pink’s pop smear past doesn’t exactly scream sold-out shows or semi-coherent sets–we expected hints of madness but not one borderline meltdown after another.

Borderline because Pink never quite cracked. Whether it was a complete act or not, he spent 60 minutes playing up a split personality persona that was apologetic one minute (asking for more bass, leaving out the last part of “Round and Round” because the band didn’t have the San Jose Choir waiting backstage) and antagonistic the next (our favorite part: when he screamed “hey, fuck you!” at a heckler only Pink could see or hear).

The Tourette’s-addled singer also alluded to a hard drive malfunction at one point, which made us wonder how many notes were being boosted by a backing track. That said, “Butt-House Blondies” featured several solid roadhouse rock solos; the golden oldies sheen of “Bright Lit Blue Skies” was downright sublime; and “Little Wig” came off like a literal Angry Inch outtake, a glaring example of what a total drama club dropout the guy is.

That’s the frustrating thing about Pink: wild-eyed posturing aside, he’s actually a decent songwriter. Go back and listen to his old albums. You’ll see…if you’re willing to wade past all of the headache-inducing smoke and mirror techniques of songs like “Strange Fires,” “For Kate I Wait” and the 10 towering, maddening minutes of “Trepanated Earth.” If that isn’t quite your peyote-spiked cup of tea, Pink’s new Before Today LP will be on our collective hard drive soon enough, right after it gets a “Best New Music” stamp from Pitchfork (not a big supporter until they’re supposed to be, mind you) and more hackneyed Godfather of Chillwave proclamations like this. If Pink’s a godfather of anything, it’s the MTV generation that spent the ’80s and early ’90s singing Top 40 songs in front of our TV screens. He’s emblematic of a feeling, not a specific sound, which is the problem with chillwave (every time we type that word, a Lester Bangs wannabe loses its wings) to begin with.

We’ve said it once, and we’re gonna say it again and again ’til that awful…fucking…word goes away: Acts like Ariel Pink, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi and Memory Tapes have nothing in common but a pervasive sense of what once was. To present them as a movement sells the music short and leads to members of MGMT, Violens, Real Estate, Neon Indian Telepathe, Vivian Girls, The Depreciation Guild, and the entire blogosphere being at Mercury Lounge on a Tuesday night.

And a Letter Grade: B