Webster Hall, New York City, September 14
The house lights are down when Ariel Pink follows his band Haunted Graffiti onto the stage at Webster Hall, bathed in the glow of nine giant neon screens. He looks tiny. Above him loom 10-foot-high white wooden posts wrapped in fairy lights, spelling out the lettering on the cover of his new album, ‘Mature Themes’.
Pink’s blue check shirt and brown jeans are weirdly conservative compared to his cropped pink hair and scowling face, which is smeared with dark eyeshadow and red lipstick. Behind him lurks R Stevie Moore, the man who invented Pink’s chosen genre of cassette-tape pastiche: a hobo with a blue beard and a tambourine. “It’s another evening, we’re going to do what we came here to do,” Pink tells the audience after ‘Symphony Of The Nymph’ (which tonight includes bits of The Beatles’ ‘Love Me Do’).
Before the show, after pacing the floorboards backstage in a cloud of cigarette smoke, he tells NME: “There is a cult of personality around me. I accept it, I’m a whore, I’m a slut.” He rubs a hand across his stubbled chin and sunken, lined eyes, looking every one of his 34 years. “I am myself, that is the job I am here to do.”
But who would be Ariel Pink? He is the paranoid, cross-dressing savant of our oversaturated culture, the mouthpiece for the end point of pop. Only when he performs does he relax, acting out one of the Rolodex of characters that feature in his songs. He’s a silky-voiced radio announcer telling the waitress to hold the cheese in ‘Schnitzel Boogie’, he’s Brian Wilson’s surfer prodigy in ‘Only In My Dreams’, he’s Cyndi Lauper in ‘Pink Slime’.
Sometimes he’s lying flat on his back telling the audience how much fun it is “up here on Mount Olympus”; dangling the mic so that it whacks repeatedly into the monitor; or holding it up to R Stevie Moore, who makes clicking noises while Haunted Graffiti finish a song. And it’s Haunted Graffiti who save Pink from self-destruction. They hold down every track, freeing him to act out. Right near the end, he dips his toe off the edge of the stage and is carried over the arms at the front. It’s a rock-star gesture, a moment of connection, one of the many faces of Ariel Pink. It’s what he came here to do.