Los Angeles pop pastiche artist and eccentric Ariel Pink and his backing band, Haunted Graffiti, took the stage at Pearl Street Nightclub sporting ankle-length graduation robes, except Pink, who donned a yellow slicker and rain boots. By the light of projector screens depicting close-up shots of Pink’s straw hair and bloodshot eyeballs, the band were recast into something resembling a cult that worships the Gorton’s fisherman.
It was a strange scene, to be sure, but certainly no stranger than the lyrics to “Menopause Man,” and it even made sense, in the same way that a song title like “Every Night I Die at Miyagi’s” makes sense. Ariel Pink has prolifically mined the strange for nearly a decade, presenting his findings in a warped, psychedelic package with an impeccable ear for pop convention.
Pink stood motionless at the microphone behind a mixing board on a pulpit while the band cruised through the beginning of their set, allowing very little dead air. The Haunted Graffiti’s tight riffing and steady rhythm hit its stride on “Kinsky Assassin,” which juxtaposed a cascading guitar line with Pink’s deadpan delivery of the line, “Who sunk my battleship?/I sunk my battleship,” all the while adjusting the echo and flange on his vocal.
After the uptempo “Bright Lit Blue Skies,” off of 2010’s Before Today, which ended with Pink drubbing his forehead with a tambourine, it became clear why the band were rushing through songs. “I’m sorry,” mumbled Pink, “I’m having kind of a meltdown here.” Pink’s occasional onstage freakouts are well-documented, but the band’s cool reaction is a testament to their professionalism. Before he could utter another word, the band quickly struck the first notes of “Only in My Dreams,” another Mature Themes cut. He thanked the band and the crowd as the song’s crystalline guitars chimed in. When the first verse came around, he was visibly relieved to be free of the burden of stage banter and comforted by the saccharine chorus.
After the brief hiccup, the imported beers that seemed to automatically replenish themselves in Pink’s hand started to have the desired effect, and his frame loosened. The dreamy electric piano on Pink’s cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s “Baby” brought his vocals into the upper register and with it his spirit seemed to lift closer to the ecstatic. Buoyed be the band’s intermittent “I Only Have Eyes For You” shoo-bop-shoo-bop’s, Pink and the crowd were swept away by the song’s hypnotic sexiness. And, of course, its many utterances of the word “Baby.” A few of Northampton’s college-town summer stragglers could be seen pairing off and making out behind the speaker columns.
After a set culled mostly from Before Today and Mature Themes, Pink and his band of Hollywood freaks obliged the cheers from the crowd with a three-song encore. Despite the fact that Pink has released a dozen records over the last decade, “Round and Round,” the last song of the night, is his most enduring and popular work. Its circuital “Song That Never Ends” chorus lent the arc of a pop song to the entire set.
Pink proves that you can shout, “shnitzel,” or coo, “baby,” or chant about driftwood, and as long as you surround it with enough pop signifiers and repeat it several times—you must repeat it—the song will burrow into your brain. I submit this as evidence: “Ahhh, eeee, oooo. Killer Tofu.”