Ariel Pink, Dam-Funk and BODYGUARD and may have been the most brilliant booking of the weekend. The three acts couldn’t be more different. BODYGUARD blends dark electronic with traditional African instruments. Dam-Funk mixes funk, soul, and (as we saw ) punk into a whirlwind of sultry sound. And Ariel Pink? Well… he’s Ariel Pink. But somehow, the combination of the three made for one of the most continuously mind-blowing events of the week. And for those that stuck around until 1:30am for Pink’s final encore, with the help of Dam-Funk, it was a surprising gift that few events this weekend could surpass.
BODYGUARD didn’t say a word the entire time he was on stage. Rather, he walked up to his equipment and started the music, then left 45 minutes later. In between these bookends, he gave us a taste of his unique take on electronic music. The beat was consistent for BODYGUARD. Over his entire set, he probably had three or four unique beats that he messed with, but they only served as the foundation for his creation. On top of those, he used a countless number of vocal and noise samples to disorient the crap out of everyone present. But the melody always came from traditional African instruments and sounds. The combination of these elements made for an enticing and mysterious set.
As Dam-Funk entered, the crowd went nuts. We recently saw them throw down at Capitol Hill Block Party, where they played a show in the early afternoon sun. But late in the evening, the smooth sounds of Dam-Funk felt much more appropriate and engaging. “So smooth,” said the guy behind me, “it’s like… sharing a merlot with a panther.” He was right, too. Damon Riddick did all of his opening remarks over a freeform R&B line, introducing the band and thanking Bodyguard and hyping the crowd for Ariel Pink all in the context of song. But when they finally broke into their actual tunes, Dam-Funk brought the house down. The dancing was endless, only interrupted occasionally by gaping stares at what was going on onstage. Riddick picked up a keytar at one point and jammed out with a spacey 70s vocal filter. Then they played a punk tune from the 80s. Then Damon played keytar in the audience and danced around with everyone else. He even literally handed me his keytar to play at one point. It was ridiculous. Finally, Dam-Funk ended their set, telling the crowd to call old friends that they used to ride bikes with, and hyping up Ariel Pink beyond reason. Dam-Funk exited to earsplitting cheers and incredible energy.
And then it was time for Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Before the show, Pink was hanging out at his merchandise booth, signing records and having casual conversation. He looked like a normal dude with a 90s blonde bowl cut (his long, pink hair was gone). But as Haunted Graffiti came onstage, they were followed by an abominable version of Pink few had seen before. His hair was teased into a mad scientist swirl of tangles, and his face was painted ghostly white with red lipstick. He wore all black and a cape adorned his shoulders. Behold, Ariel Pink the vampire. As the band broke into “Symphony of the Nymph” off of new album, Mature Themes, Pink unwrapped the microphone cable from its stand and walked to the edge of the stage. Without any warning, he literally stepped up onto a man’s shoulders in the audience and for a second or two, balanced there. When the balance of weight gave way, Pink fell headlong into the crowd, where he was caught and surfed in every direction. He continued to sing as the crowd attempted to carry him here and there, and finally, he made his way back to the stage to start “Mature Themes.” After a couple songs, he gestured off stage. “Pizzas?” Soon, a man came rushing out holding a pizza that Pink placed on the ground. For the rest of the show, Pink ate the entire pizza while singing his songs. If this wasn’t odd enough, he shouted several wonderfully incoherent messages, including “There are a lot of white people here” and “go eat yourselves fat.” Pink brings back the wonderful post-modern “I don’t care who likes this” mentality of 70s no wave. It’s ironic that it’s matched with such lovable songs, that mix noisy weirdness with 70s rock, soul, funk, and psychedelia.
For Pink’s first encore, he played “Witchhunt Suite for WWII,” Pink’s ten years in the making reflection on the events of September 11 and the US response thereafter. In other words, it’s 16 minutes of chaos. Pink danced around, ate more pizza, then stood on more shoulders, jumped face first into the crowd, then moshed with whoever wanted to, pounding on chests around him and fist-pumping as his chaotic masterpiece raged on. As this song on, he exited shortly to bring Damon Riddick of Dam-Funk back onstage for a duet version of Pink’s cover of Emerson brothers classic “Baby.” The result was absolutely glorious. Pink and Damon went back and forth for each verse and harmonized on the chorus every time. For one time the whole night, the crowd was silent, listening to the glorious happenings on stage and watching in wonder as two great voices just enjoyed each other’s company. It was the perfect ending, and showed that the booking may not have been so strange after all.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: