Though perhaps I should have guessed, my big question going into the night was: what is Ariel Pink going to be like as a performer? Before-hand he looked awkward and brooding on stage. Dressed in white jeans and striped Russian navel shirt, he aimlessly paced up and down playing anxiously with his hair. He stared vacantly at band mates as they hurriedly readied their instruments and then he stood, centre stage, rocking from one foot to the other scrutinizing the crowd face by face. His demeanor changed as soon as the music started. Singing he looked focused, and as the set progressed he relaxed and started to let loose. During one early song he removed his belt and proceeded to swing it around his head accidentally whipping his own arm. Then he took the belt and feebly lashed the monitor speakers lining the front of the stage. Returning to the mic stand, he dropped his trousers to the knee revealing baggy black under-pants rumpled up at either side to his hips. (This wasn’t the first time the trousers came down either, later when asked to ‘show us your cock’, they came off again, only this time fully and permanently. He performed the final stages of the show in what could have been his pajamas – underpants and tee). He thrashed about the stage with great energy and exuberance but he can’t really dance. He was pretty creative with the belt though; it featured throughout, done up in a noose around his neck, swung around lasso-like or just dangled between his legs.
There’s no doubting Pink’s creative intelligence and originality. I suspect as time goes by and he settles into this new way of doing things we’ll see more drama (and I hope more costumes!) in his performances. His theatrics last night were a bit silly, but never-the-less endearing. There was no irony; this is just the way the man gets down – like a child messing about in his bedroom when no one’s looking.
A very mixed crowd seemed to feel it. The venue was comfortably full, some danced, and some nodded frenetically while others just stared stolidly at the stage. It was hard to gauge whether these guys were enjoying themselves or not. There were allot of fans – classics like “Gettin’ High in the Morning” and “Flying Circles” from 2006’s House Arrest were welcomed with claps and cheers, however it was a new number – the ethereal disco of “Round and Round” – that got the night’s biggest reception.
Much has been made recently of the new material and what Pink’s transition from lone bedroom recordist to live group means for his distinctive lo-fi sound. Based solely on last night I think having a band has extended his range of possibilities. Sure, we’ve lost the swathes of analogue crackle and hiss that veiled his early songs and wooed fans and critics alike and leaving us too is the image of Pink as a somewhat tragic genius destined to work away on primitive recording equipment in relative obscurity. But both his music and his persona have so much more about them than this and with the band there, these obscured elements can come to prominence. Beneath the sonic haze there were always joyous, beautifully constructed pop tunes and now we get to hear them in all their splendid detail.
In this week’s Now magazine Pink told of his hope that people would have fun at his shows. And I think they will. It’s easier to dance to his songs now. Some of the old tracks have a cool swaggering rhythm but I never really danced to them. Pink has always been a head-phone listen for me in part because the loose beats and less-than-metronomic playing didn’t help a dancer keep time, but also because his small sound was never sufficiently enveloping. The combination of a tight band and big sound-system meant that last night I danced my ass off! – Thomas Barker
Fan Vid for “Round and Round”