On Friday night, Los Angeles and the world’s most renowned hauntology expert Ariel Pink brought his Haunted Graffiti to the upstairs room of Whelans. Accompanied by a troupe of spaced-looking musicians, he filled out the degenerated tape-pop of his recorded career into a live show which consisted of about 33% 60s US guitar psych, 33% Can, 33% wedding band and 1% sanity. Supporting was the curious and excellent Patrick Kelleher and the Cybill Shepherds, and over the course of the gig, the answers to the podcast-posed questions regarding Ariel Pink’s approachability and his general deal emerged.
If you’re not familiar with Ariel Pink, here’s a refresher course that I’m going to compile from the clippings in my own head, without any recourse to online bios. Ariel Pink’s real name is Ariel (Ah-real) Rosenberg, and he comes from Hollywood, California. He was signed to Paw Tracks, Animal Collective’s initial label, and his connections to AC do not end there. In fact, the song which would emerge on Merriweather Post Pavillion as ‘Guys Eyes’ was originally gigged as ‘Song For Ariel’ on the Strawberry Jam tour (including two outings in one night in Dublin). This song is about masturbation. Any further interpretation would be spurious.
The guy makes the lo-est fi music it’s possible to make while still having people tolerate what you do. However, people do more than tolerate it. People who love Ariel Pink LOVE Ariel Pink. His music actually does sound like degenerated cassette tape. Sometimes it sounds like ridiculously cheesy 1980s pop, more on the starched white suit level than the Erasure area. Other times it’s spacey, or puzzling. It’s never dull though.
That’s what I knew beforehand. Here’s what I learned, what I heard and what I saw:
It’s a cliché to say that famous people are shorter in person than you’d imagined, but Ariel Pink’s shorter in person than I imagined. As for his podcast-mooted approachability: well, he carries himself a little like one of the 1980s singers he channels some of the time, throwing shapes as he walks and persistently requesting “more me” through soundcheck and the gig itself. But he did put on a show.
First, though, Patrick Kelleher and the Cybill Shepherds, who I actually couldn’t really see from a very awkward location within the venue, put on their own show, with material mostly drawn from Patrick’s debut album. The album is excellent and refreshingly experimental without ever being up itself, and the live show reflected that. Stuff like ‘Coat To Wear’ was as chilly as the downstairs toilet seat of an igloo (in a good way) but beats, grooves, screams and crashes subbed in and out to lend variety, and if I could see it I’m sure it would have been even better than it inarguably already was. Kelleher is genuinely someone worth being excited about.
Ariel Pink is too, I think. No, he is. Definitely. I’ve been conflicted about him for a while now, because his albums are so knowingly self-hindering, fidelity-wise, to the point where, with my current cheap headphones, there’s no point in trying to listen to it while in town. But live, there’s no two-track tape deck or whatever to mix everything through and the energy his enthusiastic band provide helps to feed his own dramatic performance and, by extension, the crowd.
It’s also notable that some of his songs are (sorry about what I’m about to type, sophisticated people) serious, serious tunes. I’m not incredibly au fait with his stuff to the extent that others might be, but the stuff that cuts through its own self-harming slummery on record to grab your attention does the same thing but multiplied by 100 when there’s nothing keeping it down. ‘Among Dreams’ off The Doldrums is a Top 30 Hit in the alternative universe where people as vaguely creepy as Ariel Pink get onto Top 30 Hits, and ‘For Kate I Wait‘ is almost too evocative of certain nostalgic feelings, like the beach days that the current HB ads are trying to tap into.
The highlight for me was ‘Are You Gonna Look After My Boys’, which is as ridiculous a song as it sounds. That’s the thing though. The songs aren’t ironic twists on preposterous, cheesy 80s pop. They’re just preposterous, cheesy 80s pop, but somehow more genuine and better. The front three rows, which were the only responsive sections of the Friday night crowd, went mental for that one in particular, and I could picture, for a second, the ghost of Ariel Pink playing on a small outdoor stage in a festival on a sunny day and neutrals and devotees together having a grand old time.
Just a ghost though.