A Changing of the Avant-Garde

May 5th, 2010

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mercury Lounge – May 4, 2010

Legend has it Ariel Rosenberg passed the members of Animal Collective one of his home-recorded cassettes on tour. When they finally got around to listening to it they vowed to release it on their own Paw Tracks label, and Ariel Pink was born. He defies categorization. His songs don’t fit into any specific era of sound, combining everything from ’70s smooth jazz with super-produced Thriller-era ’80s dance beats. He records with such disregard for traditional techniques that the sound becomes its own unique whole, a combination that is unfortunately inherently difficult to recreate live. This is the dilemma Ariel Pink has created for himself in the past, but thanks to his incredible backing band, Haunted Graffiti, he ably pulled off songs from his still-unreleased album, Before Today (out June 8th).

With or without a multitrack recorder, the songs, composed of seemingly disparate and unusual elements, are totally his, and played live, they delivered completely on the impossibly complex structures. Onstage, Ariel Pink moved around unhinged, embodying the manic split personalities of the material with vocal sound effects, high-falsetto soul and tragic theatrics all while holding a tallboy in his free hand. It’s exactly what you would expect from the savant paying homage to the entire history of recorded music.

It would be sacrilege to not mention R. Stevie Moore, the man Ariel Pink has named as his No. 1 influence. The grandfather of home recording, Moore opened last night in a rare live performance with random percussive accompaniment on acoustic guitar. The live connection between these two universes was apparent in his stream-of-consciousness songs about acid, Popeye and the sign in the washroom telling employees to wash their hands. And the sold-out Mercury Lounge crowd was in awe. —Jason Dean