Night two under the big top at Lincoln Center was another perfect example of the Rock and Roll Circus organizers not knowing what they were getting themselves into. While Monday night was proof that punk rock was still alive, last night was an exercise in absurdity that seemed to catch the circus and the crowd off guard.
Showing up, it was obvious there were some people there with the NASCAR mentality. What if there’s another crash? What if lightning strikes twice and chaos breaks out again? But it looked like the heightened security and slightly (only slightly) upped organization in place were set up to prevent another incident like Japanther provided previously. Fortunately, last night was able to provide it’s own weird and unique experience that reminds us why we are into avant garde music in the first place.
Opening bands Saint Motel and Amazing Baby seemed to put on exactly the show that the promoters wanted: very contained rowdiness. Not to discredit them, but they are pretty typical guitar rock bands, writhing with prescribed sexual energy and finding their way through songs that leave you in essentially the same place you were when they began. There were circus acts – contortionists, balancing acts, ladies suspended by silk sheets – which were pretty rad, but almost seemed like too little circus too late.
After intermission, the floor boards inside the circus ring were pulled up, exposing the dirt below. The lights dimmed and a herd of majestic-ass white ponies started running around! With a trainer in the middle of the ring, seeing a pack of these guys running around was the perfect interlude to Ariel Pink.
On Monday, people should not have been surprised that Japanther is rowdy. But they were. Last night, people should not have been surprised that Ariel Pink is weird. But they were. Music started from the loudspeakers and he came out wearing shades, an amazing sequin shirt and red polka dot pants. It was one dude with a mic and two backup dancers wearing those weird animal hat/scarf things in a ring of dirt that just had a million ponies running around. Ariel Pink looking more aloof than anyone you have ever seen.
The people in the crowd around me were audibly unimpressed. Across the aisle, a group got up and left. (A dude sitting in the aisle yelled at them and called them quitters.) The couple in front of me Wikipedia-ed “Ariel Pink” on their smart phones. It was all very weird.
He made his way lazily through songs from last year’s hit record Before Today. Taking long periods to just sit down ringside or stand immediately in front of his monitor speaker, before announcing mid-song “OK. OK. Next song,” and switching over to “Beverly Kills,” heading into the crowd. Surrounded by cameras, climbing the tent’s scaffolding looking noticeably bored, freaking security guards out, it is cool to see someone just wanting to mess shit up.
During his last song “Revolution’s a Lie,” Ariel just walked out of the tent, wireless microphone in hand, the music still looping through the loudspeakers until he was out of range. The lights came up on a confused crowd and MC Acid Betty came into the ring saying “I guess that was it?” Both nights of the Rock and Roll Circus ended with the clearly expressed notion of confusion. Which was awesome.
Check out this video of Ariel Pink climbing scaffolding.