Continuing an unbroken streak of ass-ugly album covers
Madison Square Garden
February 7, 2007
Given her chaotic bender of a career, it makes sense that Pink’s live show wouldn’t make any sense, seesawing wildly as it does among styles and sentiments. In four albums, she’s run through at least as many different personas. She became a star doing jittery raceless Rodney Jerkins cyber-R&B before suddenly disowning that phase of her career and launching headlong into post-Lilith Fair confessional guitar-pop and somehow blowing up even huger in the process. After that, though, she hired Rancid’s Tim Armstrong to co-write a pretty great little punk-pop album called Try This, and of course nobody bought it. Her latest persona is a sort of uneven combination of all her previous guises, and it’s a bit heavy on clumsy publicity-stunt theatrics like her heartfelt but overwrought anti-Bush song. Considering both the constant flux of her career and the fact that said career has been on a downslope for a few years now, she seemed like an odd choice to open Justin Timberlake’s mind-bending circus of a tour. But like Justin, she’s a survivor of the teenpop era, and she has a catalogue of singles nearly a decade deep to prove it. More importantly, she’s a raw-throated belter of a singer, relying more on the raw power of her rafter-shaking howls than on any sort of melismatic technique, which means the songs from every era of her pop existence work surprisingly well in big venues, and she carries herself like a headliner even when she’s warming up an arena that’s only half-full as she takes the stage.
I wish I could tell you more about Timberlake’s techno-extravaganza of a live show; I’ve never seen any performer elevate the form of arena-pop to art the way Timberlake did, and hearing Timbaland’s DJ set was like staring into the face of God. But Rob Harvilla is writing a column about the Timberlake show already, so I’m sticking with Pink, who did as well as any opening act could hope to do with Timberlake’s ridiculously elaborate in-the-round stage, which took up most of the floor at the Garden and which looked like something Frank Gehry might’ve designed. She walked through the crowd to the stage surrounded by security, like a boxer, and she worked a weird sexy-martial look, rocking a platinum-blonde fauxhawk and a military-minidress thing. Timberlake’s stage is built specifically for technopop, but Pink stayed away from her early R&B singles, a shame considering they’re her best. Her one dancepop capitulation was her set-closing rendition of “Get This Party Started” (I guess it would’ve made too much sense to start with it), which included a quick interpolation of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and a crazy-impressive stunt where she and a female backup dancer climbed into a cloth swing that suspended them twenty feet above the stage and enabled them to do a lot of vaguely Sapphic trapeze rope-swing maneuvers. That was easily the highlight of the set, even though Pink’s backing band of bar-rock holdovers made a mess of the song’s arrangement. The rest of the set unfolded with no clear game-plan, swinging between extremes without warning. On “Stupid Girls,” a bunch of dancers came out to mime stupidity, though they actually looked stupider at the beginning of the set when two of them completely shanked a move where one slid across the other’s back (they both fell down; it was funny). A couple of songs later, she did “Dear Mr. President,” her protest-song, as a Melissa Ethridge acoustic-harmony folk-jam, indtroducing it with a vaguely drunk-sounding ramble (“I have a lot of political opinions”). But as sloppy and ridiculous as her set could get, she’s still got a greatest-hits album’s worth of great singles, and I can’t imagine any scenario where I wouldn’t want to hear “Don’t Let Me Get Me” played loud over arena speakers.
There’s something vaguely embarassing about Pink; she reminds me of the dude who keeps buying flame-emblazoned clothes at Hot Topic even as he pushes thirty. But that embarrassing quality, a sort of permanent unwillingness to advance beyond her teenage rebellion, is central to her appeal. She’s a pro at being a mess. Maybe she never quite managed to get the entire arena on her side, partly because a lot of them were still finding their seats by the time she got done, but throughout her set, she had clusters of girls randomly sprinkled through the Garden standing up and singing along with every word. Maybe those girls like her because she’s happy to embody their inner sneering punk. Or maybe they like her because sneering punks are just a lot of fun. Either way, I’m glad Justin recruited her rather than Fergie or Katherine McPhee or any other ascendent pop chick. Pop will be slightly more interesting as long as Pink is part of it.