Forget what you’ve read about Ariel Pink’s anxiety-filled live shows. Actually, don’t. Because everything I’ve heard and read about his self-indulgent performances made last night that much more amazing. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti filled The Chapel with nothing but celestial vibes. He was, at moments, outrageous, sensual in his flamboyant mannerisms, child-like, theatrical and genuinely humbled.
Before Ariel took the stage, Holy Shit! (pictured above) offered a dance party soundtrack of forgotten 1980s hooks and melodies that a good portion of the crowd was hesitant, at first, to get into. As the band went through songs like “Written All Over Your Face,” a decidedly slinkier number, and the stripped-back “The Castle,” the band’s three-guitar, one bass and one drum machine repertoire eventually melted the audience. Matt Fishbeck’s longtime project, which used to include Ariel and a certain SF-based singer/songwriter who happened to be lurking in the audience, fared much better in this venue than in places like Brick & Mortar, where the band played earlier this year for Noise Pop. With its superior sound, The Chapel cradled the tip-tap beats coming from Matt’s fisher price-looking drum machine, allowing for each guitar part to be distinguished and appreciated, though Matt’s vocals remained characteristically indistinguishable.
After Holy Shit bid farewell with the instrumental “Bombs,” the crowd prepared itself for the main event. After fifteen minutes of downtime, The lights dimmed and, letter by letter, Ariel Pink’s name began appearing on the backdrop, as if an invisible hand was drawing it on with a neon green marker.
Ariel took the stage wearing white leggings, white high-tops and a red sweater, which he eventually shed to reveal an off-the-shoulder blue and white shirt. He held a glass of white wine and brandished coral red lipstick. His bandmates all sported black graduation gowns, with bassist Tim Koh and guitarist/keyboardist Kenneth Gilmore also donning gray mullet wigs and looking like mad scientists.
As promised, the band played material from Ariel’s entire catalog. They kicked things off with “Nostradamus & Me,” a slowly swirling track off of their latest album, 2012’s Mature Themes. With a smile, Ariel thanked the crowd for coming and jumped into the jangly “Bright Lit Blue Sky,” tambourine in hand.
When he wasn’t clutching a tambourine, his glass of wine or fiddling with nobs and his unruly blonde hair, Ariel was clenching his left fist, microphone in his right hand, punching out the beat to each song, sometimes letting it dangle by his waist, elbow bent, during particular hip-swaying moments. Graceful in his own right, he moved fluidly and often stared straight ahead into The Chapel’s lights with absolute certainty.
“Ready?” he asked the crowd before announcing “Strange Fires,” a song originally recorded in 1999 and re-issued on the 2004 album The Doldrums. The band jumped into a spirited version of the track, with Ariel visibly excited by the audience’s reaction.
“I love how you guys know all the songs!” he said, delighted by the crowd’s enthusiasm. As if rewarding us for knowing and loving his more obscure recordings, the band immediately began playing the first single released under the full moniker Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and the track that put the act on the map of major music publications, “Round and Round.”
By this time, he had traded in his glass of wine for the rest of the bottle, which he finished before closing the set out with a cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson’ sugary sweet ballad, “Baby.” He thanked the audience again, and the band walked off stage, waving as they went.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti returned for a three-song encore, ultimately closing out with Mature Themes‘ “Pink Slime,” and a pair of older tracks, “She’s My Girl” and finally “Helen.” Respectively from 2002’s House Arrest and Lover Boy, two albums that originally came as a two-CD set before each was reissued in 2006 as their own records, the songs seemed a fitting way to bridge Ariel’s journey from enigmatic bedroom composer, to petulant performer and finally a confident bandleader who holds down a stage and audience like its the most natural thing in the world.