Ariel Pink & Haunted Graffiti, Callinan, Purple Pilgrims Fitzgerald's June 16, 2013
On Sunday evening, the turnout for Ariel Pink looked pretty bleak.
The show, which was being held in the upstairs ballroom of Fitzgerald's, had a crowd of about 30 people. With the bar tables and stools set out in the middle of the floor and the upstairs balcony closed, hope for this show seemed to diminish by the minute.
Around 8 p.m., Purple Pilgrims took the stage. From the back, the noise looked like it was coming from nowhere. In actuality, it came from a sister duo, Clementine and Valentine Nixon, who were sitting side by side amid Ariel Pink's gear.
But though the noise emitting from the speakers was loud enough to be heard from the balcony, Purple Pilgrims is an act that features vocals that sound like a droning whimper, layered atop fuzz, feedback, and lazily strummed electric guitars. In many ways, their performance is as nonsensical as it is alienating.
That being said, Purple Pilgrims might not have survived in any other live setting.
For one, the duo played two songs in a 20-minute time frame and nobody left the room. It might not seem like a big deal, but it's pretty ambitious to ask an audience to pay attention to one song for ten minutes, let alone one who isn't likely acquainted with you. The second being that Purple Pilgrims kicked off a bill that seemed to be composed of people all living under one roof (or, one could argue, from the same cult).
The crowd was fairly quiet for Purple Pilgrims -- so quiet that one person dared snap at the end of each song instead of clapping -- but in their defense, the room didn't see more bodies until the second act, Kirin J. Callinan, took the stage.
Though Callinan seems he could also be part of an Ariel Pink-headed cult, his work was the most surprising of the evening.
The Australian native walked onstage wearing only a pair of American flag boxers and running shoes. As he stood amidst a large semi-circle of pedals, delays and loop pads, he went back and forth between belting out heartfelt love songs and dragging the audience into the middle of a science-fiction nightmare.
Though Callinan is best labeled as "experimental," it's easy to pick up influences across decades and genres; most notably, '80s dance-pop and fuzz/noise rock. Regardless, we're certain that he's a modern-day Dead or Alive.
His performance was hard to follow at times, but Callinan kept the audience intrigued. However, he truly captured their affection when he performed his single, "Thighs," which featured his most emotional performance of the night. Maybe it was the stick-n-poke tattoos randomly sprinkled over his body, maybe it was his androgynous, cocky certainty, but when he belted out "Your Dad won't know/ You'll be my girl/ I'll be your girl," he managed to charm the pants off of everyone in the room.
But after eight songs, it was time for Ariel Pink to take the stage.
Joined by his band, Haunted Graffiti, Pink walked onstage and began playing "Strange Fires" off 2005's The Doldrums, without much of a fuss. But it wouldn't be a Houston show if things didn't get off to a rocky start. In between the first two songs Pink began speaking to the audience, but because there was so much reverb coming from the mike, it was unclear whether he was addressing the audience or trying to talk to the sound booth.
But like a professional, Pink swept the incident under the rug and continued on. By the time the band started playing the third song, "Trepanated Earth," two girls had walked onstage and began dancing.
In a live setting, Ariel Pink's voice is velvety smooth, and Haunted Graffiti are undeniably tight in their delivery. This is especially important for Pink, whose sound blends disco, funk, pop, fuzz and psych. Somehow, it just clicks in person, and it's better than never clicking at all.
However, it's hard to ignore the feeling that Pink's music feels intended to be listened to while high. (Ironically enough, two guys were escorted out of the show after being repeatedly caught smoking weed by Fitzgerald's security.)
Still, his music is easy enough to sip down, and Houston was lucky enough to score such an upbeat act during the summer months, when shorts and sundresses are mandatory.
Pink didn't seem to get the memo, however, when he strolled out wearing a pink-plaid ladies' muumuu, zebra-print pants and untied Timberland boots.
Then again, Pink marches to the beat of his own drum.
Unlike most artists, Pink only played five songs off of his most recent album, Mature Themes. While that's virtually unheard of for an artist touring a new album (he played a total of 18 songs), it's even more surprising that he waited until he was seven songs in to play them.
But maybe it was a smart move on his part, because in the end, Pink managed to fill nearly half of the ballroom and kept the crowd dancing the entire time. Of those in attendance, there was one especially excited woman by the name of Heather who shouted out that she wrote a book inspired by Ariel Pink. Another guy was hell-bent on pushing around his fellow attendees, before throwing three beers and getting kicked out for picking a fight during the middle of the set. Not cool, bro.
Of course, the rest of the crowd couldn't be bothered, and there was ample reason. For a man who seems to be very relaxed about his approach to performing, Ariel Pink is willing to take control of his art through sound and visuals. He had his own projection reel on the back wall of the stage queued up to change with every song, making the concert feel much like a sensory acid trip.
It's not something many bands are doing, so it's a nice change of pace to see someone put that kind of energy and effort into his show before taking the stage.
All in all, Ariel Pink is better digested live than on album, though that's not to say his releases aren't worth a spin. While some might argue that it's bad to be perceived that way, we won't. Instead, we feel it's a testament that, as "different" as Ariel Pink may be, he's best experienced live where his music can envelop you the way it was intended to.
Personal Bias: I've never really listened to his music (although I'm a fan of his friend, Christopher Owens/Girls), but after I saw how large the crowd was for his show at South By Southwest in 2010, I decided it was time to see what the hype was all about.
The Crowd: There was a strong smell of patchouli oil. A lot of females who looked like they got fashion tips from their parents' high school picture books, then sat around on tumblr for too long making collages of Twin Peaks characters before kneeling before their Lux Lisbon altar. (Yes, that's a type.) Hipsters. Lots and lots of teenage hipsters.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I feel like I'm watching the hacky sack scene from She's All That." (In reference to Kirin J. Callinan's set.)
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Random Notebook Dump: I wouldn't be surprised if Ariel Pink's dancers end up dancing at Summer Fest for a DJ in the coming years.