Among the many tales about Ariel Pink, there’s one, possibly apocryphal, about a live show where he came onstage and did nothing but intone the word “Xanax” for the duration of the gig. It’s slightly worrying, then, when he emerges out of the leftover Halloween dry ice at this Club Uncut show to solemnly pronounce “Carrots”, then disappears again.
Pink, of course, has several reputations: as a prodigious LA singer-songwriter, finally escaped from his bedroom; as the elfin godfather of chillwave, hypnagogic pop and several other nebulous genres that hazily misremember ‘80s FM radio hits; and as a somewhat unpredictable live performer. As he studiously eats what I assume to be a carrot, it looks like this one could go either way.
Suddenly, though, the Haunted Graffiti are surging through the harmonious garage chestnut, “Bright Lit Blue Skies”, with a kind of intense, high-pitched slickness, and Pink – a frail and theatrically agitated man who resembles, from this distance, a glam-rock Kurt Cobain – is keeping up just fine.
In fact, what’s most surprising about this terrific show is how accurately Pink and his quartet of experienced Silverlake scenesters can reproduce the weird, insidious pop of “Before Today”; the precision and gloss, the prog intricacies, the lushly deranged falsetto harmonies, and the amniotic effects that drench Pink’s vocal leads.
If anything, the likes of “L’Estat” are even more effective live, given a spectacle and bombast that seems odd from such a lo-fi maven like Pink, but is actually totally suitable to his vision: even when, at the end of the song, his girlfriend Geneva Jacuzzi arrives onstage, dressed as a trick-or-treating Marcel Marceau, for some interpretive dancing that she appears to have learned entirely from old Kate Bush videos.
Later, Pink wheels out his own Bush homage, “For Kate I Wait”, one of a bunch of old songs that the band manage to carry off with a faithfulness to the unsteady original versions, but with a professional efficiency, too. It’s a neat trick – as, of course, is the old one of a flakey frontman employing a band of reliable artisans as backup. Haunted Graffiti, in their matching band t-shirts, seem to have helped shift Pink towards the mainstream he obviously craves, but without sacrificing any of his psychedelic nuances.
The “Before Today” songs are the biggest winners in this, so that “Round And Round” comes out of the blender as a weirdly forlorn anthem for 2010, complete with a cappella five-part harmony breaks. I’m sure I racked up a load of references in my original review of “Before Today”, but a few more spring to mind tonight: Cheap Trick, a lot of Bowie, “Midnite Vultures”-era Beck, Mike Post & Larry Carlton (on “Can’t Hear My Eyes”); and, on the brilliant final double whammy of “Butthouse Blondie” and “Little Wig”, Blue Oyster Cult.
If there’s one act the whole production reminds me of, though, it’s a substantially less successful one. Bobby Conn might not have the same quality of songs as Pink, and his place in the underground is far less close to the surface. Nevertheless, in the mixture of FM staples and avant sensibilities, facepaint, theatre, self-conscious otherness and an imperative to blur the boundaries between trad rock abandon and performance art, the two have a lot in common.
And here’s an email this morning that says Haunted Graffiti are going on tour in the States later this week with Os Mutantes. Let me know if any of you catch that.