Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti at the Fine Line 9/22/12

Categories: Concert Review
Photo by Sally Hedberg
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
With Dam-Funk
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ariel Pink might be one of the greatest pretenders of our musical era. But the catch is that he might not be. For years he's made it deliberately unclear as to whether he's genuinely definable by the tumultuous presence he maintains, or rather just a zany caricature of himself, secretly laughing as we all try to "figure him out." More than likely it's a little bit of both and more importantly, when he keeps producing such singular content, who cares? Though a definite cliché, the whole "crazy genius" thing fits in an intriguing way (most of the time). And if there's any indisputable evidence of this it was his performance Saturday night at the Fine Line.

See Also:
Os Mutantes, Ariel Pink at the Cedar, 11/20/10
Ariel Pink's 'Witchhunt Suite' drops a decade after its recording

Before Ariel's antics took to the stage, people gathered for an entirely different, though comparably impressive act: Dam-Funk. Groove-able as the name suggests, the Pasadena producer-turned-artist drew a sizable crowd for an opener. Arriving just as they started and possessing only hearsay and Wikipedia-blurb knowledge of how "sweet" it was, my energy heightened when I immediately stepped into a room full of happy, dancing fans. The appeal was straightforward: funk-fused dance-tracks that left hands raised and hips shaking. And in retrospect, this was a perfect primer for the unpredictablitly of what was to come.

Photo by Sally Hedberg

Some small but legitimate anxiety prefaced Ariel Pink's set. More than anything, it's easy to want to see the songs from his new album Mature Themes performed. But what form would his particular brand of weird would take? Eventually he emerged from the lair of Fine Line basement looking memorably terrible in a sequined v-neck and vampire cape, characteristic bubblegum hair strewn about disheveled as ever. He looked a little confused. He looked a little drunk. He looked eerily reminiscent of Courtney Love. As soon he (supported by the skill of Haunted Graffiti) launched into a vigorous opening of the hilarious "Symphony of the Nymph," it was clear what kind of show this would be.

 "Symphony of the Nymph" was an entertaining first choice, his declaration of "My name is Ariel and I'm a nymph" serving as a sort of introduction to his audience. Additionally, the recorded version has a very subtle injection of part of the Beatles' "Love Me Do." Live and loud, we were all able to hear the band's uncanny reinterpretation.

Photo by Sally Hedberg

It's unclear if Pink's overzealous crowd surfing started on that first track or if it was the second ("Mature Themes") but once it did, it didn't stop. Ever. Really. Not exaggerating. Naturally, the concert-goers were thrilled at any chance toss him drunkenly around and he capitalized on this for about every track of his performance. One of the most entertaining aspects of the show was watching the demeanor of the guy who was responsible for feeding him microphone cord and helping him back onstage after each bout of surfing. Anyway, he played a fair amount from his latest album and it went over well.

His initial indie cred came from 2010's Before Today, an album equally as multifaceted in production but more cohesive and '70s pop oriented as a whole. Mature Themes is a bit more experimental, a bit more lyrically out there (Yup. There's a track about wiener schnitzel), and a bit more bass-driven. But Haunted Graffiti are extremely talented in their individual parts and this translated fine to a live setting. Though I will say the energy definitely jumped when he initiated tracks like "Bright Lit Blue Sky" and "Fright Night", which, judging by the pure satisfaction on the band's face, must be some of their favorite material to play.

 The conclusion to be made or acknowledged or whatever is that Ariel is a hell of a performer and so the novelty of his live act doesn't easily wear off. Though the dark and distinctive sound of his music (sounds like something from another era that's perpetually lost) seems likes it's born from extensive production, he's able to recreate it flawlessly live with vocal effects and pedals. By the time he concluded his encore, which ended with a drawn out, improvised jam from a track I couldn't recognize under the reverb, nobody cared that he was trashed or sounding increasingly messy or delivering his whole namesake fanfare. The show was unforgettable and whether he will admit it or not, that's part of what makes it that way.

Critic's notebook: 

The crowd: twenty-somethings. Thirty-somethings. A fair amount of musicians.

Personal Bias: Secret's out: I share the sentiment that Ariel Pink IS one of the best musicians active today. Though I'm not immune to disappointment from him.

Overheard in the crowd: COUNT CRACKULA (recall the cape).

Setlist (partial):

Symphony of the Nymph

Mature Themes

Only In My Dreams

Early Birds of Babylon

Bright Lit Blue Sky

Kinsky Assassin

Farewell American Primitive


Fright Night

Witchhunt Suite For WWII

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