Ariel Pink

(Photo: Lee Strubinger)

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully understand who Ariel Pink is and what he’s all about. In some ways that’s what intrigues me toward his art, and in other ways it’s what repels me.  

My initial exposure to Pink came during a hot mid-July afternoon in Chicago. Before that day I didn’t even know who Ariel Pink was, and was expecting a female performer, not a Kurt Cobain doppelganger.  

But alas, the crowd got what they paid for: Pink’s intensity & seemingly predictable drama. His physical performance at times compromised the sound they were creating. Without any frame of reference to his antics, which included violent gyrations and shoving his headset microphone down his throat and screaming, I simply failed understand why people were clapping.

The weather was quintessential Chicago summer temperatures, meaning an unforgiving sun, a blanket of humidity, and the Windy City failing to live up to it’s own name. Plain and simple, it was hot. Pink even alluded to it here. Not long after the band finished “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” he left the stage and the show was over, playing only half of a 45 minute set. Some cheered, some booed.

Fast forward three and a half years. Love is in the air—it’s Valentine’s Day in Denver, and the complete opposite of festival conditions in Illinois. Pink is riding the wave from 2014’s critically acclaimed double LP "pom pom," which is his most produced work to date. It’s an important milestone in the discography of an artist who cut his teeth making lo-fi cassette demos seemingly from a dimly lit basement.

The Bluebird Theater crowd on Saturday night showed up early, packing the venue including the aisles. Through the speakers came what sounded like vintage '80s pop-rock throwaway radio singles that have simply been lost through time—only to be resurrected by a generation that identifies with acid wash, high wasted denim jeans and fluorescent hues.

Pink’s opening act, Jack Name, played Denver for the second time in less than four months. In the time between opening for Thee Oh Sees at the Gothic Theatre and playing the Bluebird, Name released his sophomore album "Weird Moons." 

The three-piece act barely finished their sound check before kicking into the opening track “Werewolf Factory.” The group ripped through the entire album, playing it track for track and in order. Name shredded on a miniature v neck guitar.

Before Ariel Pink and co. (not billed as his typical backing band Haunted Graffiti) took the stage, bassist Tim Koh set up a makeshift cooling machine, complete with bar stool and rotating fan for Rosenburg (Pink’s given name). At once, the lights went out and the band walked on stage, creating some wild fantasia like a weird mix of post-"Apostrophe" Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd and the aforementioned vintage '80s radio singles.

This show was weird. One of the two synth players donned a Lucha libre wrestling mask and the drummer looked like Alice Cooper in a black captain’s hat. Pink himself wore what looked like Sir Mix-a-Lot pants, KISS-inspired purple studded heels and a thin black shirt revealing a lot of chest.

Pink’s compositions feature simple pop licks that, when transferred live, complicate themselves not by their required skill level, but the angst and energy needed to perform them, like lifting weights on a glass platform over nothingness. “White Freckles” is a great example of this very thing—a disjointed tune that comes together over a driving bass riff and popping synths.

The show featured mostly "pom pom" tracks, but the group played notable classics like “Fright Night” and “Butt-House Blondies” from the 2010 album "Before Today." The Bluebird reeked of The Wall era Pink Floyd when they played “Four Shadows,” from the new record.  

When the group went from “Put Your Number In My Phone” to “Dayzed Inn Daydreams,” the crowd was awakened following a botched attempt at playing “Exile On Frog Street.” Pink later admitted they’d only played “Frog Street” a few times together.

A lot can change in three years. I entered the concert as an Ariel Pink skeptic and left impressed. Pink’s demeanor was vastly different from 2011. He hovered over the microphone near his cooling machine, for the most part. What at once seemed like a project near it’s demise, Pink has seemingly settled down for the absolute long haul—but, of course, ruffling feathers along the way.