Live: Ariel Pink Swaggers And Baffles at Irving Plaza
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti w/R. Stevie Moore, Silk Flowers
Thursday, June 2
Better than: Being able to predict every note before it was played.
Last night, the two opening acts for Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti laid out something like the coordinates within which the headliner would play. First came Silk Flowers, a trio whose pop pushes its listeners toward the urge to fall asleep standing up in a "but that's kinda the point" sort of way. Then was R. Stevie Moore, whose bloodlines connect him to some of biggest names in 20th-century music and whose home recordings have made him a cult favorite's cult favorite. Between songs the bearded, pajama-wearing 59-year-old shouted out the new master of home recording, yelling Lil B hooks like "Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen DeGeneres" and "I'm Miley Cyrus!" to a crow of mostly confused twenty-somethings.
Confused twentysomethings turned out to be a reoccurring theme last night, with Pink playing on the audience's bewilderment from the moment he took the stage. "The future is worst than the past," he shouted, quoting a Moore album title and receiving cheers, before mumbling, slightly dejected and slightly amused, "You don't get the reference." From there, the onstage assemblage went right into Pink's old track "Flying Circles," with the energy of the full band enlivening its already-stellar hook. However, few in attendance seemed to recognize itor much of anything released before last year's Before Todayand it wasn't for another two songs, when the band launched into the equally catchy "Bright Lit Blue Skies," that people started dancing and singing along.
"Bright Lit" (played, it should be noted, when the stage was at its darkest and foggiest, Pink's sunglasses-covered face barely visible and his drummer nowhere to be seen) began a stretch in which the band played tracks two through five off Before Today in order, even turning up the lights for "L'estat" and emphasizing the song's many stop-and-starts before stretching its last two minutes as far as they could go. By "Beverly Kills" Pink had fully assumed the role of rock star, exuding a confidence that made even his most awkward dance moves look cool.
This swagger carried into what might have been the set's secret high point, an at least fifteen-minute rendition of "Witchhunt Suite for World War III" that culminated with Pink throwing his mic (and his body) around the stage in search of new sounds; at one point he smashed the mic against the stand intended to support it. Pink had built up enough audience goodwill to keep the audience dancing through most of it, but as "Witchhunt" moved closer to its "The human race is an invention of the West" climax, bodies began to move less and less.
Even if most in attendance didn't recognize Worn Copy or House Arrest tunes as they did those off Before Today, they seemed to like what they were hearing. And many of the older tracks were switched up enough that even longtime fans could have needed a moment to identify them. (The first thirty seconds of "Credit," for instance, had me thinking the band was covering something by The Human League.) Either way, by the two-song encore of "Among Dreams" and "Hardcore Pops are Fun" the crowd was dancing almost as much as it had at any point in the night. Because when a band sounds good, dancing along doesn't depend on whether or not you know the songs.
Critical bias: Knew all of the songs, except two whose titles appear completely illegible in my notebook (see below).
Random notebook dump: Still can't get over Stevie Moore channeling Lil B. I'm Miley Cyrus!
Bright Lit Blue Skies
L'estat (Acc. To The Widow's Maid)
Fright Night (Nevermore)
Round and Round
Witchhunt Suite for World War III
One on One
I Wait For Kate
Hardcore Pops are Fun