Rock and Roll Circus, Night II
Starring Ariel Pink, Amazing Baby, Saint Motel, Aska, and Nick Zinner
Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center
Tuesday, January 4
Better Than: Last night?
. . . And we’re back for night two of The Weirdest Show on Earth. Tonight’s crowd looks slightly beaten down after last night’s Japanther-led, mosh-pit-plagued debacle, like the younger sibling of a screw-up child clearly being punished for someone else’s sins. No matter. Once OK GO (thankfully) canceled and were replaced by actual chillwave god Ariel Pink, the Lincoln Center-hosted, Rolling Stones-honoring affair got itself an actually psychedelic ringmaster, and we were well on our way to this being a legit Rock and Roll Circus. The crowd is a strange hodgepodge of trannies, rockers, bankers, and weekend carnies who have too good a job to commit to this life full-time. What can you really expect from an event co-sponsored by 15 different companies in the heart of midtown?
While last night’s free punk/garage line-up made some sort of sense, tonight’s bill seems much more haphazard. Nick Zinner’s addition gives us some sort of hope, but his low-key performance with singer Aska Matsumiya (of Moonrats and the Sads) disappoints the drunken casual fans. “Why was he just up there, like, DJing, with that girl just singing in front of him?” someone laments, clearly pissed that the set list didn’t include “Maps.”
L.A.’s Saint Motel are the Stillwater version of Kings of Leon, a proficient band of young proto-hipsters who know how to play their instruments well, but seem to be plucked directly from Central Casting. At one point the singer weakly attempts to stir people into a second consecutive riot by advocating we “go nuts,” but no dice. No one seems to care enough. Amazing Baby play a similar brand of non-threatening rock for the masses, inoffensive but uninteresting — they go for broke, but just lack a compelling reason to not look away. There is the distinct feeling that we’re at a John Hughes-esque Battle of the Bands at Shermer High School: No one gets gonged, but no one wins either. Within 20 minutes a woman will be directing ten white horses around the main ring. And within 20 minutes of that, we will realize that she was the high point of the night.
As the horses gallop off, Ariel Pink is enthusiastically announced by our drag queen host, Acid Betty. AP saunters out alone with a mic, followed by two backup “dancers” in long animal hats who sort of move around every few minutes behind him. He is backed by no band whatsoever and sluggishly sings behind karaoke versions of his own songs. It’s as if we’ve caught him in his living room in pajamas on some strange drug trip we can’t even begin to understand. He lays down onstage, he walks into the crowd and sits next to someone, he climbs a lighting post till he’s brought down. It’s what you imagine may have happened to Kurt Cobain if he were still alive and performing in Vegas.
The entire crowd shares a skeptical look, not sure if they’re in on the joke or a part of it, if this is some Tony Clifton-style hoax where the real Ariel Pink is about to suddenly appear. Nope. “OK, next song!” Pink commands, waving his hand mid-verse as a DJ somewhere skips to the next backing track for him to sing along to. The crowd nervously laughs. The whole affair feels like some sort of meta-goof: “We actually got a bunch of companies to pay for THIS!!”
About 30 minutes after appearing onstage, Ariel walks through the crowd — still singing — and right out the front door. People wait a moment for his reappearance and then start to follow him. Pretty soon everyone does. But the guy is long gone. The circus is over.
Critical Bias: I don’t remember quite so many drag queens in the Rolling Stones version of this thing. Then again, I haven’t seen it in awhile.
Overheard: “Where’s Waldo?” asks one Big Apple Circus employee to another, as Ariel Pink walks right by them.
Random Notebook Dump: Spike Jonze, who recently worked with Zinner on a short film soundtrack, is here for some reason.