Ariel Pink and the severed head of Sia
I have only been to a Sia concert once. It was at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. I do not remember it very well and I believe I stole a man’s pizza while he was in the restroom. I do recall she didn’t move much across the stage, and occasionally I thought the woman was a scarecrow RCA created and placed on the stage, with the arms prodded to move by a ten-foot pole hidden behind it.
Ariel Pink is not Sia; they’re not similar in nearly any sense. Pink’s Wikipedia describes the project as a branch of “avant-guard pop,” though there is little that is traditionally “pop” about this band, no matter how far the definition of pop stretches. If Sia is pop, Ariel Pink is death metal. The band is actually closer to goth psychedelia, sometimes confounding, always gaudy and never dull. When the hefty group of six or seven appeared on stage in Detroit’s El Club (the project is usually a one-man show), Ariel Rosenberg, the frontman and creator of the project, was wearing that iconic Sia wig, black on one side and blonde on the other. It was a fascinating sight, and it took me a while to overcome the dissonance, as Rosenberg is the antithesis of Sia’s brand of immobile, reserved stage presence. He jumped around, slammed his feet on the black stage and put on a show in the very literal sense.
Ariel Pink is currently touring their most recent album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, released in September to acclaim. It’s a heavy, strange piece of music that floats in a non-existent decade, pulling from all, but especially the ’80s. It’s hyper-ironic, and the tone can be hard to pinpoint. That ambiguity is what often makes their albums difficult to approach. There are so many contradictions and oddities that it can feel like you’re entering an alternate world. Track titles on Bobby Jameson push this narrative: “Kitchen Witch,” “Revenge of the Iceman,” “Santa’s In The Closet.” The cover and the title seem to hint at something very dark too, though in an off and strange way; if this were a different band, the album would be a eulogy.
Watching Ariel Pink live on a Sunday night certainly did not feel like a eulogy. Many of the band members may have been dressed for one (a particularly eccentric guitarist and background vocalist wore an enormous cylindrical fur hat, with black lipstick, an all-black outfit and a demeanor like he was amid the effects of multiple interacting drugs). But they carried with them more energy and excitement than I’ve seen from a band in a while, and the irony feels natural on stage — the joke lands. The goth imagery is their weapon, not a stage crutch, and like the experience of listening to their albums, the show dragged me into a totally different world. Rosenberg waved around a plastic, three-pronged candlestick and danced and convulsed to their best hits. “Lipstick” gains a more human touch live, as does “Baby.” “One Summer Night” is far more danceable than it sounds on the album version: in person, it was bodily. Rosenberg’s really lets his voice go for it on stage, so much so that you can hear every crack, and the effect is astounding. The instruments feel freed, far airier than anything you’d hear on their CDs. The looseness of the live performance corrects the stiffness they might be criticized for in recordings.
The endurance of the band was impressive, and they played for around an hour and a half. They took a break before the encore, and trucked on with another four songs — perhaps too many, but they looked like they were enjoying themselves, and the crowd was too.
At some point in night the Sia wig came off, and Rosenberg waved it in the air like a baton, the severed head of boring live shows, and Sia.