Live review: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti at the Echoplex
Of all the questions to ask about Ariel Rosenberg’s late success as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, maybe the biggest one is – why now?
Rosenberg has released enough limited-run cassettes and CD-Rs to sink a barge, and ever since 2004’s “The Doldrums” he has reliably banged out around a full-length per year of sun-damaged blissy art-pop for Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label.
Clearly, signing to 4AD and cutting “Before Today,” his great and most sonically forthright record yet this year, has done wonders for him. Haunted Graffiti has finally grown from L.A. outsider-art’s inside secret into a thrilling (and shockingly tight) international concern. But in a way, as good as the band has gotten, it seems just as important that the surrounding culture has finally caught up with them.
All the cool kids are swapping romantic, tape-decayed pop like Nite Jewel, Wild Nothing and Neon Indian, and Pitchfork has a whole new blog network devoted to covering such things. Rosenberg could never be accused of overt careerism, and probably takes developments like selling out the Echoplex on Friday with a huge streak of amusement. But it’s telling that just as the mainstream hipsterati knighted him as the crown prince of lo-fi, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti took a hard turn for clarity and showmanship.
For a band whose mythology is rooted in the idea of Rosenberg as this genius hermit cranking out tapes and hiding from the sun in his L.A. flophouse, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti has turned into a crack live act.
An assemblage of local veterans including Aaron Sperske (Beachwood Sparks), Tim Koh (White Magic) and Kenny Keys ground his songs in a sturdy yet malleable instrumental structure. It also frees Rosenberg up to more fully inhabit his personality onstage. He spent most of the set gallivanting about the stage in a red dress with just a microphone for company, letting his severe swath of long hair dangle over a deranged grin.
“Round And Round,” the first single from “Before Today,” had a kind of ecstatic champagne-funk vibe in the choruses, but when Rosenberg took to the verses, his demeanor let the dark edges through. “I want to go home," go the mumbly lyrics, and it cements the sense that music has long been an escape from something for him.
But the most revealing part of the set was how the band unpacked the songs buried in the globules of warbly treble and reverb from his Paw Tracks catalog. Haunted Graffiti have enough material where they could probably play for a few days without stopping, and keeping up with that catalog could prove an exhausting task.
But the band was generous Friday -- at every turn, a defanged funk bass or a quiet turn of melody or a hometown hero lyric (who knew a dazed, deadpan cut like “Life In L.A.” would get so many audience catcall requests?) percolated up and proved what the point of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti really is. Rosenberg is a documentarian of the agony and ecstasy of surviving in this very weird town. And it’s our pleasure to share him with the world now.
Photo: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times
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