As college kids and in one way or another, we’re all coming of age. We’re still having many “first” experiences — accumulating necessary prerequisites to launch ourselves into uncertainty. We check off checkboxes in a list of miscellany, hoping that any weird addition renders a semi-responsible, confident adult with a solid backstory. Often times we strive to be interesting, perpetuating an unconscious desire to find ourselves exciting, or at least tolerable.

I came of age last night in a brutally insignificant way. I went to my first 21+ show, hosted at Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Shore SF. It just so happened to be the Black Lips and Ariel Pink, both of whom in many ways utterly buck adulthood altogether. In the Black Lips’ case, coming of age is the ironic plague of life — it meticulously confiscates youthful tones and perverts them. Which is why, despite the fact that the four-piece Atlanta garage rock outfit is now in their 17th year together, the song remains the same. The song is about stupid kids who don’t know any better. It’s about kids who just don’t listen. Kids who maybe aren’t that good at their instruments, but make catchy music anyway, so who cares? And they weren’t even supposed to be good in the first place, were they?

In Ariel Pink’s case, adulthood is gruelling. It labels people. Thus it must be defeated, and the only way to defeat oldness is to flip it, throw a shit ton of glitter and some metallic silver ’70s-style gym shorts on it and sit back and cackle at it. Well, maybe it’s not the only way, but it certainly is Ariel Pink’s way. And in that strange consistency, his song, too, remains the same.

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Much like our comings of age, Black Lips and Ariel Pink were disappointing. Although the crowd vibed and sang along to many Black Lips songs, the overall energy of the room was painfully low. To illustrate it bluntly, at one point during the set, I made brief eye contact with the bassist. Instead of smiling and laughing to myself as is my lame custom, an unwanted awkwardness crept over me. After playing a series of warmly received songs, the band left casually, knowing they would return the following night. I must have heard at least 10 times the condemnation of fervent fans: “that set was so short.” (It lasted just over a half hour.) I wondered if a set any longer would have made any crucial difference in my impression, but then again the comforting thought embraced me — the song remains the same. Quite possibly too much of the same? To fans, the set was ephemeral but only temporarily satisfying. To others, it was more likely received as a forgettable routine of tired garage punk.

Ariel Pink took to the stage flanked by his Haunted Graffiti, a six-piece band consisting of two guitars, a bass, a kit, and two synths. Ariel simply sang. The set was bizarre. Although it approached groove level in some sections, the rhythm of the set was non-existent. In support of his most recent solo record, Ariel Pink played many songs off of pom pom (4AD, 2014), but also incorporated many of his better known songs with Haunted Graffiti. In very similar fashion to the Black Lips, Haunted Graffiti began the show sounding like a group of amateur instrumentalists, encouraging the worrying thought in me that this band was all part of some sort of unfunny joke. Even though this sentiment faded through the set as the supporting band eventually revealed their chops, the joke element of it did not, which put, on full display, both the merits and unavoidable faults of ridiculousness, the crux of the act.

In checking off a box last night, I felt my resistance to regression. I felt oddly conservative, but also proud of both of the bands, for not giving a shit, I suppose. Alas, some shits must be given. Such is life, for some of us. For the Black Lips and Ariel Pink, comrades in the battle against both normalcy and change, performance is a chance to explain all of our bizarre personality companions that get lost along the way to our futures. Perhaps that is greater than musical accomplishment itself.

Article by Darius Kay

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