The music world is full of fascinating personas, but every once in a while you encounter a true enigma of the culture. Prince used to piggyback around on his bodyguard’s back in nightclubs, Kurt Cobain came out to the biggest show of his life in a wedding dress and wheelchair and Iggy Pop just never wore a shirt –– like, ever.
As an underground urban legend of Los Angeles with more recorded low-fi material than anyone can keep track of, Ariel Pink is one of those rare, mysterious kinds of artists. Luckily for those who know what’s what, Ariel Pink hit SOhO last week with openers DIIV and Savage Henry to bring some of those underground vibes to the Santa Barbara audience.
A prominent figure in indie music for nearly two decades, Ariel Pink is known for his mysteriously large amount of recorded content and his unique lo-fi aesthetic. He is an L.A. icon that is always a treat in the rare moments he performs live. Coming off of his 2017 homage Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, which received widespread acclaim from critics, Ariel Pink is hitting the road in multiple countries and has brought DIIV along for some of the stops. The two mesh well together and were benefited by the help of their local opener.
Isla Vista icons and obvious Hunter S. Thompson reference Savage Henry also opened the night off with some heavy rock tunes before DIIV and Ariel Pink dismantled the stage. As someone who has seen this band many times in quite a few local sweaty backyards, I can personally attest to the talent and drive of this band. Their performance was tons of fun and featured a group of very likeable and talented musicians. Although it may appear easy to doubt the tangible potential for industry success in these hot local Isla Vista bands, no one can deny their talent and poise, and the opening for legend Ariel Pink is no dismissable task.
DIIV was a clearly effective primer for Ariel Pink’s performance as the more mellow atmospheric sounds and elaborate light set provided a spacy backdrop for the night. I have seen DIIV play excellently before, and their SOhO set was no different. Their instrumentals nailed their usual perfect blend of clean and ambient with just the right amount of reverb and all cues were executed as cleanly as ever. A talented group that has played together for a long time, this set was clearly not their first, as hits such as “Dopamine,” “Doused” and, of course, “Under the Sun,” were executed effortlessly.
After chilling out at the patio in the afterglow of DIIV, my friend and I moved up close to catch the man of the hour, the mastermind himself, Ariel Pink in all of his weird glory. After a beautiful musical blur of over an hour, I can now say in full confidence that Ariel Pink was very weird and very glorious. His presence was all that I could have imagined –– plus more that I could never have –– with beautifully strange and staggered stage presence, intense and clearly visible passion, an extremely cohesive backing band and just a shitton of high quality jams.
Ariel Pink came out with one of the best on-stage looks I’ve ever seen, sporting a half-cut hairstyle with one side long and one side short, jean shorts that went far above his knees and a classic striped “Guess Jeans” t-shirt. With a mic full of stylistic reverb and distortion, Pink strutted and poured over his lo-fi instrumentals like no one else. His opening tunes included some standouts from his newest work, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, as most of his stops on the tour has revolved around the album. Some of the earlier plays included aggressive punk era thrasher “Time to Meet Your God,” and ambient pop landscape “Bubblegum Dreams.”
The later parts of his set included more selections from Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, such as “Feels Like Heaven,” “I Wanna Be Young” and standout late night ballad “Another Weekend,” which was arguably the highlight of the night. The mellowed-out reflective change of pace gave a moment of breathing room for the audience as Pink crooned over a dreamy backdrop.
The L.A. recluse also provided some deeper cuts from his repertoire as expected with someone of his lengthy and deep discography. Some other cuts included “Lipstick,” from 2014 project pom pom and pop ballad “Baby,” from Mature Themes. Pink also included a number of tracks from his 2006 classic album House Arrest, including the title track as well as “Hardcore Pops are Fun,” that his backup singer pretenced with “There’s glam pop, and then there’s hardcore pop!” Such a simple yet important statement effectively summarized the cultural pull of Ariel Pink as a genre bender and musical journey.
After stepping off for a quick encore after an electrifying set, Ariel Pink came back out to finish with “House Arrest,” standout “Netherlands” and end with “Bobby Jameson,” B-side “Ode to the Goat,” which came as a thank you to us as an audience as well as a thank you to his inspirations.
Overall the set was incredible with almost 20 tracks performed, all with intense personality and emotion. It seemed to fly by with quick transitions and intoxicating daze, and the man himself proved to be an absolute great and a symbol in the world of music. Ariel Pink is someone I will surely see again in the future and has opened up my eyes to the full extent and range of his work. A door was opened that gracefully pushes some more casual fans to explore just everything that this lasting artist has to offer.
Ariel Pink is a mystery, an icon and indie as fuck. He has ever-expanding layers of depth and art that reach farther than most people can really know, and even knowing a little bit about him is equal to knowing nothing at all. Perhaps he is not from our time or planet, though he is equal parts future, past and present.
His live presence was everything we could have expected and more. It was enigmatic, it was borderline insane and it was, for lack of a better term, Ariel Pink as fuck. Last Thursday personally marked one of the most memorable and immersive concert experiences of my entire life, as a living legend proved his extensive and everlasting prominence.