Ariel Pink is a pop innovator; a glam-rock weirdo sneering in the spotlight, knowing he deserves to be there. Saturday’s Biltmore serenade, however, belied that talent.
Opening act Purple Pilgrims were haunting in not in title, but tone. The two sisters, Clementine and Valentine Nixon created ethereal folk with keys, pedals, and their own lulling vocals. Not unlike Austra, not unlike Grouper, Purple Pilgrims had a dark disturbance to their dream fuzz. Feedback possessed their airy electronics and bewitched their pixie howling.
Pink’s formal greeting, “Hello bitches,” was followed by a downcast gaze and satirical pondering, “What are all these pedals?” a roguishly redundant question for Pink. He and his band, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, are beyond fretting about the fragility of looping pedals.
In casual zebra pant couture, Pink began his first number, “Grey Sunset.” The song’s recording is no eccentricity and the live version was a sleepy reenactment. Its intentionally blurred hooks were met with soft drumming. The riffs were distanced by layers of drone looping. When they played “Only in My Dreams,” the audience was reminded expectantly of Pink’s newest album Mature Themes. Next to the patter of drumming, high key notes rolled in and out. The psychedelic surf was a standout so far, though only half as powerful as the recorded version. The enticement of “Menopause Man” brought similar optimism. In expanse, the song offered Pink’s signature vocal swoon. Dusting the crowd in his hazy cloud chorus, the transgender tale somehow fell short of spirit. The same goes for his subsequent rendition of “Round and Round.” For one of the most engrossing, swirling, pop triumphs of our time, Pink’s performance was a stunted circle of listlessness.
“Alisa” was particularly sincere. For a writer whose lyrics are as frequently nonsensical as they are crass, Pink’s literal laments seem especially sentimental. The emotional clarity of his confession, “You’re in my heart. You’re in my dreams. You’re in my soul,” contrasted the night’s bleared musicianship. The result was appreciated humility. Of the set’s 16 tunes, two more were thinly retold from Mature Themes. “Kinski Assassin” was recognizable by its board-game key climb and accompanying lyrics. Imaginative and playful, the words constructed rhythm with alliteration and assonance. What “blonde seizure bombshells and the blowjobs of death” actually means seems unimportant. “Baby” came second to last. The candlelight pacing and velvet-toned instrumentation conveyed romance (if, slightly satirical) and, for the same reasons as “Alisa,” had relatively augmented appeal.
The night’s final tune began with deep guitar chords pronounced over a pre-recorded track. The electronic atmosphere and Pink’s distorted voice brought to mind glimpses of something OK Computer-esque. The intent of the song however, never unfolded. Lacking synchronicity, the song’s disjointed sound foreshadowed the band’s imminent exit. Starting with Pink, all four other band members slowly walked out of view. As the last of the loops resonated on an empty stage, this clever show conclusion seemed nothing more than elaborate performance in lethargy.