Toward the end of the show, I notice I’m standing next to a friend. “Are you enjoying it?” she asks. I could be honest and say no, but then I’d have to explain that I’m not in it for the fun, per se—that I make time in my life for experiences that bother me in elemental ways, and that, sometimes, that feeling of being bothered is a lot richer than having fun anyhow. But I don’t want to be an anti-social blowhard, so I say, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.”
Pink’s show seems less uneasy than Powell describes it, but it’s still a deeply weird experience. On stage, he was a manic presence, running around the stage and sneering wildly through an interpolation of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do”. Adding to this exuberance was R. Stevie Moore, who executed mid-set costume changes, dyed his beard blue, and jumped around wielding, at various times, a tambourine and a bass which he never audibly played. Moore and Pink’s interaction was goofily affectionate — for Ariel, who’s wearing a homemade Moore t-shirt on the back of his debut The Doldrums, it must be a real joy in touring with such a critical influence.
Showmanship aside, the band found an effective balance between Pink’s free-roaming strangeness and muscular musicianship. Mature Themes highlights “Symphony of the Nymph”, “Kinski Assassin”, and “Early Birds of Babylon” sounded precise and polished beneath Pink’s ironic emoting. When the setlist eventually lost steam, turning into a limp ambient workout before a listless encore, it felt like a glimpse of what an Ariel Pink show might once have been. Even with this professionalism, though, I could easily empathize with Powell’s botheredness — it’s difficult to know what to make of Pink’s mercurial persona or his cryptic music, which is at the same time why he’s such a fascinating artist.