Live Music + Gig Reviews

Ariel Pink @ Electric Ballroom, London

3 March 2015

Ariel Pink Discussion on the music of Ariel Pink often centres around whether he’s being sincere and really “means it” or whether he’s just deliberately messing around with styles and being wilfully ridiculous. On the surface it’s easy to see why such talk arises – his recent albums have contained some undeniably silly (if very funny) lyrics, animal noises, a range of affected voices and some exaggerated, cartoonish musical arrangements. Yet amongst such ostensible frivolity there’s more significant things going on, specifically his ability to reappropriate and skew musical tropes in his own unique, highly melodic and engaging style. When a large part of the current alternative music world is so relatively straight-faced and orthodox this absurdist approach and leftfield creativity feels even more important.

He appears on stage at the Electric Ballroom in movement-restrictingly high bejewelled platform heels, a butterfly print shirt and pink jeans – only outdone by drummer Don Bolles who performs in a fetching lime green bikini and cowboy hat combo. He announces they are going to play latest album Pom Pom in full “with some surprises”. This structured proposition doesn’t seem a very Ariel Pink thing to do in some ways but half way in he deviates from the album running order and drops a few songs.

The early stages of the album show his ability to mine the music of previous decades for its purest moments and repurpose and synthesise them into his own brilliant creations. It’s immediately apparent in how the errant playfulness of Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade segues neatly into the erratic energy and tempo shifts of White Freckles. Taken together, the overblown drama of Four Shadows, time-faded synths of Lipstick and New Romantic pseudo-darkness of Not Enough Violence reinforce the sense of musical hyperactivity and genre-skipping that has characterised his recent releases.

They dip into 2013’s Mature Themes album for Kinski Assassin, something of a highpoint in the absurd lyrics stakes – references to “suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs” and “the blow-jobs of death” complimenting the infectiously wayward guitar riffs and overall feel of the song. He delves deeper into his past for Life In LA which may lose some of the lo-fi aesthetic when played live but also proves he still speaks for the outsider (the venue is filled by a lot of long term fans who respond adoringly).

Tracks from Pom Pom make up the rest of the set – the heavy rock, guitar-soloing intensity of Goth Bomb finds an equivalent in the space-rock of Dinosaur Carebears before it veers off in comedic, novelty fashion. These tracks also offer a reminder that the album excels on the song name front – in this context it’s only really Nude Beach A Go-Go (covered last year by Azealia Banks) that is omitted tonight.

There seems to be a musical form of attention deficit disorder evident on the enjoyably punkish Negativ Ed while Jell-o remains the sort of brilliantly juvenile musical sketch you might have heard on the Adam & Joe radio show. Two of the highlights from Pom Pom come in the form of Sexual Athletics and Black Ballerina. The former is built on a sleazy, balls-out riff and features a squealing Pink urging us to “go the emotional Olympics” (it was one a few songs on Pom Pom to feature lyrics by late producer/artist Kim Fowley). As the drum machine kicks in the crowd is turned into a dancing, swaying euphoric mass. Black Ballerina’s mix of squelchy ’80s electro sounds and amusing character-based storylines sounds so fresh and diverting meanwhile it makes us ignore the fact that strobe lighting has been pounding our poor eyes for something approaching half an hour (specifically at Pink’s request). He keeps praising the ‘legendary’ venue throughout and it strangely suits him, seeming to bring out the best in him. Somehow, his personal excesses found on recent albums don’t quite come across quite as pronounced live.

He wheels out the pop hits for the encores – Put Your Number In My Phone, Dayzed Inn Daydreams and Only In My Dreams all project a gleaming melodic strength indebted to ’60s guitar pop (whilst also showing the quality of his superb band). The harmonic twin blast of fan favourites Bright Lit Blue Skies and Round And Round get an enraptured reaction from the crowd. With brilliant shows like this it’s difficult to understand the hostility his music occasionally provokes and why he isn’t greeted with the wider acclaim he deserves.

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