REVIEW: Ariel Pink mesmerizes with divisive performance at the Chapel

 Ariel Pink

SAN FRANCISCO — Ariel Pink is the voice of a generation. Well, a voice, anyway—the voice of the second mouth that sprouted on the side of a generation’s neck like a gill after it nodded off on a toxic beach; the voice of the subconscious. Ariel Pink is like Neil Diamond, if he was an Xennial who’d done a lot of LSD in high school.

His music sounds like the private, jumbled, dreams of a kid who grew up soaking in ’70s and ’80s pop culture so deeply it’s embedded in the psyche. He has several personas: the horny loser who is proud of being a loser and actively trolls you, the nerd genius who spills out talent in a seemingly endless gush, the confident and passionate frontman. He’s all those things at once.

And on Sunday, to some he appeared to play up another persona—that of abuser. Some audience members were offended that he appeared to be attacking his girlfriend, singer Charlotte Lindèn Ercoli, though she strongly denied it on social media.

Red lights low, Ariel Pink’s set at the Chapel Sunday, one in a run of four nights in the city, kicked off with the itchy, witchy “Death Patrol,”  a freak-funk number off his new album that chugged along, setting the mood of awkward magic in motion. The weird spell was helped along by Pink’s charismatic backup singer, a lanky androgynous person in Keith Richards mascara and a giant fur hat, whose lively energy was a complement to Pink’s half-serious brooding throughout the show.

I’ve been a fan of Ariel Pink’s music for almost a decade, first catching wind of The Doldrums and other early 4-track recordings, but had heard mixed things early on about the live act. This made sense: the early recordings, and some of the newer ones too, belong to the closely held aesthetic of bedroom recordings; intimate, quirky and creatively free.

But after the move to 4AD and the album Before Today, it seemed pretty clear a real band had formed around this deeply personal vision. Aside from some sonic hiccups, the band around Ariel Pink was phenomenal on Sunday, supporting with waves of synth and guitar in slick coordination that also lurched organically, as these distinctively off-kilter pop songs demand.

Most of the set consisted of material from the newest release, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, with a strong rendition of the catchy-yet-lonely “Another Weekend.” A rougher patch was hit with “Kitchen Witch,” one of the prettiest tracks on the album, with a guest female vocalist evoking the dream pop of the Cocteau Twins. Live, the voices were hard to hear, and some garbled onstage theatrics had me wondering if everything was cool off-stage with the performers.

A few songs off recent albums got folded into the mix, including the ’80s-noir “Lipstick,” off 2014’s Pom Pom. Waves of dark, beautiful synths and plaintive voices, croons weaved in with cries, created a wall of sound that lost a lot of the nuance and layers from the recordings, but were very effective in their own way.

The show wound up with a generous three-song encore started by the title track from the new album, the Doors-meets-Cobain jam; then on to the hit “Round and Round,” from 2010’s Before Today. It was a great song rendered with beautiful textures by the live band. I hadn’t been able to pull myself away. I was going to miss the last train to the East Bay and I didn’t even care.

John Maus opened the show with a perfect set. Maus’ music has the same challenge Ariel Pink’s does: it’s hand-made electro-pop that sounds like it comes from a very personal aesthetic, so translating it to a live show and a full band is difficult. The nuances of atmosphere are impossible to totally reproduce. But it’s a challenge that John Maus and company handled with passion and total dedication.

Note: After the publishing of this article comments and discussion on Reddit and Twitter made me aware I may have missed something in my initial write-up.

I was standing toward the back of the crowd, taking notes on my phone. What I saw during the performance looked to me like more of an awkwardness, lack of rapport and banter that honestly left me scratching my head, rather than something that I could identify as harassment.

While I can’t go back and watch it again, what I can very easily do is say unequivocally that both I and RIFF Magazine believe sexual harassment and assault are completely unacceptable, and don’t intend to excuse or condone it or turn a blind eye.

I’m reaching out to see if I can get a statement from the singer who people were expressing concern about.

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(8) Comments

  1. Charles Porch

    The fact that you don't even mention that people were horrified by this show and many walked out says a lot about your publication. Glorifying misogyny and domestic abuse is never ok, staged or not. I know several people who were at these shows who found it highly disturbing. You are enabling this monster by skirting the issue. This is all over the internet right now and you look like enablers publishing this.

  2. Charles Porch

    Here's a thread outlining the account of what really happened at this show. Many people were left uncomfortable and visibly walked out because of it, and to not even mention it is irresponsible journalism. Obviously the author was not affected by this display.

    1. Roman Gokhman

      Hi Charles. Thank you for your comments. We're looking into this. Our reporter did not initially see the possible severity of the situation but we're working together to see if we can clarify.

      1. Charles Porch

        Thanks I really appreciate it. I was at these shows and it was very traumatic to see, even if it was allegedly consensual – especially at an all-ages show. Nobody wants to go to a show and see a young female member of the band get degraded onstage. Usually I'm all about keeping reviews about the music, but I think it's important to know where to draw the line. We all know that he is a reactionary artist, but there is a limit on what should be acceptable behavior to subject your audiences to – especially when they aren't expecting it. It's too bad because I really enjoyed John Maus's performance, but these events have tarnished the whole experience for me. I don't think I can ever listen to Pink again.

          1. Charles Porch

            This is great news. Thanks for investigating. I'm interested in hearing more about what she has to say. At this point I'm also interested in what Ariel has to say about it besides joking about it onstage. It seems like Charlotte is out cleaning his dirty laundry for him when he should be doing it himself. He was the one who was acting like a creep, so it would be telling to get some quotes from him or an actual apology. Why should she be the only one speaking up? Seems cowardly to me.

  3. diarrhea_of_anne_frankenstein

    What's more unforgivable is that you failed to mention/recognize that the "lanky androgynous person in Keith Richards mascara and a giant fur hat" was none other than legendary Germs drummer Don Bolles. For shame!

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