Ariel Pink loves champagne, Charles is his girlfriend–not his friend–and he claims he’s not a misogynist. Those were the surface level takeaways from the opening night of Pink’s four night residency at the Chapel in San Francisco. But before I delve into the wonderful messiness of Ariel Pink, who’s birth name is Ariel Rosenberg, let’s go back a few hours to John Maus’ opening set.
A long time collaborator with Pink, John Maus has made a name for himself within the synthpop and gothpop subgenres and has gained a cult following. In fact, some people were specifically there to see him. While waiting to get into the venue I was asked, “Is this the line for John Maus?”
And Maus and his band sure did perform like they were the headliners. Maus walked out on stage screaming like Anakin Skywalker with his legs in a river of lava and pounding his chest and head with his fist, which he did frequently throughout his set. Maus, when he wasn’t singing, looked like he was actively trying to exorcise a demon from his body, hitting his chest and head, aggressively tugging at his button up shirt and dad jeans. The intensity of his performance was appropriate for his doom invoking music and his voice, which could be described as Andrew Eldritch of The Sisters of Mercy but with richer timbre.
After Maus stumbled off stage, the stage crew got to work setting up for Ariel Pink, and the Chapel’s DJ delivered 45 minutes of the most obscure music I have ever (never) heard. A Blue Öyster Cult deep cut and a cover of The Brady Bunch’s “It’s a Sunshine Day” was as mainstream as it got.
Suddenly the lights went down, the “Ariel Pink” logo from his latest album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (2017), flashed onto the wall behind the stage, and the crowd suffered what can only be described as a ‘Near Death Experience Via Subwoofers’. I actually felt my bones rattle underneath my skin. With the lights still down and the venue still vibrating, the very wacky and very punk, Don Bolles, strolled out on stage to introduce Pink. Bolles has been in the music industry since the 70s, best known as the drummer in the punk rock band The Germs.
A few seconds after, Pink’s backing band walked on stage and picked up their instruments, Bolles and Charles, girlfriend and collaborator of Pink’s, stood in front of their respective microphones, and Ariel Pink, in a Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive tank top straight out of a tourist shop, stumbled onto the stage on his knees, cradling a bottle. I knew we were in for a messy night.
The first half of the show was nonstop madness with Pink dancing around with his bottle of champagne, trying once to crowd surf but changing his mind last minute, and getting up close and personal with Charles. At the peak of his energy, Pink actually wrestled Charles to the ground and sang on top of her while Bolles, completely unfazed , tried to make out which songs were listed on the wet and torn up setlist. They kicked off the set with the funky “Death Patrol” and continued to play songs from Dedicated to Bobby Jameson such as “Time To Meet Your God”, “Feels Like Heaven”, “Kitchen Witch”, and “Another Weekend”. Between all of these songs, Pink kept repeating that Charles, who helped write Dedicated to Bobby Jameson and lent her vocals on some tracks, was his girlfriend and that he was not a misogynist. This repeated comment seemed to be an inside joke so the crowd opted for a collective awkward laugh. But Pink didn’t let the awkward vibes linger and carried on to the next songs with little downtime.
After the wild first half of the show, Pink seemed to sober up a bit, and took the time to thank the crowd and express his genuine excitement about selling out four consecutive shows in the same week. Bolles then mentioned that they had some material from the Pom Pom era to play. “You want the familiar stuff, I get it,” Pink said in mock annoyance. Even though Pom Pom was just released in 2014, the album is already regarded with the tender fondness and nostalgia of a decade old record. Then they continued to play “White Freckles”, “Lipstick”, and “Put Your Number in My Phone.” The audience lost their minds during these modern classics and even started an extremely short lived mosh pit during “Lipstick.” But the classics didn’t stop there. Towards the end of the night Pink performed “Menopause Man” and “Baby” from the Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti days.
Pink kept his talking limited, and when he did talk, it was difficult to make out since his mic never dropped the reverb effect. With Pink’s notorious history of saying whatever he feels like, not taking into account political correctness, I can’t help but wonder if the reverb was left on intentionally. However, I do appreciate the authenticity and frankness with which Pink lives his life. That unadulterated openness to acting on whatever idea crosses his mind seeps into his music and is present in his whimsical live performances. It was refreshing to attend a show that was promoting a new album, yet wasn’t over-aestheticized and didn’t feel explicitly “promotional” in nature. Everyone was just there to enjoy music, especially Ariel Pink.
Article and Photos by Rebekah Gonzalez