On Feb. 24, 2014, Philadelphia’s Union Transfer Center hosted lo-fi pop auteur Ariel Pink and his band, the Haunted Graffiti, in a night brought to life by music that could best be described as AM radio for the modern age. Ariel Pink is a multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles, Calif., best known for his hits, “Round and Round” with its disco-influenced groove, and last year’s infectious “Put Your Number in My Phone.” The venue, the Union Transfer Center, is located in the heart of Philadelphia on Spring Avenue, with concerts put on by a conglomerate of R5 Productions, the Bowery Ballroom Presents, and Four Corners Management. While Union Transfer is no stranger to underground artists and the occasional oddball like Ariel Pink, the promoters at the venue are also notorious for their wide palette of the artists booked, ranging from black metal authority Mayhem to Swedish hip hop sensation Yung Lean & the Sadboys.
Opening in 1889, the building was initially known as the Spring Garden’s Farmer Market, and was owned by a private group of investors and farmers. Due to competition from other privately-owned and operated markets, the building was bought out by the Union Transfer Baggage Express Company in 1918, transformed into a train depot station. The physical building itself has undergone numerous incarnations brought about by several different ownerships, typically changing with the demands of Philadelphia itself, and it has severed as everything from a spaghetti-themed restaurant to a tire shop. In 2011, independent New York promotion company the Bowery Presents, R5 Productions’ Sean Agnew, and Avram Hornik and Mark Fichera of Four Corners partnered up to use the spacious warehouse as a concert venue, hosting indie veterans Clap Your Hands Say Yeah as its first official show in that September. Since then, Union Transfer has become an epicenter for local promotion, featuring and selling products made by Yards Brewing Company and Little Baby’s Ice Cream. This past week continued the venue’s few years of excellence with a stunning performance from Ariel Pink and his Haunted Graffiti, an artist known for penning his eclectic humor alongside scads of indeliable hooks.
Born Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, Ariel Pink got his start as a solo pop artist interested in psychedelia, soul, and cassette culture. His earliest recorded albums contained compositions of him performing and recording all of the instruments into a four-track recorder, starting with a collection of songs compiled and first released in 1996 titled, The Nite Pan, Pts. 1-11. Pink would go on to repeat this process for almost a full decade, never performing a live show, but constantly cataloging his songs onto CDs or cassettes. He happened to strike luck in 2003, passing on one of these selected works to the experimental pop band Animal Collective after meeting them at a show in Maryland. After listening to Ariel Pink’s cognizant Frank Sinatra croon work alongside his surf rock guitar strums, the band did not hesitate to sign him to Paw Tracks, their record label.
Ariel Pink started performing live for the first time in 2006, and with a few projects under his belt funded by Paw Tracks, he had ample material. However, completely new to performances, he simply removed the vocals from his tracks and sang along karaoke-style in a series of shows that were poorly-received. It was not until the advent of the Haunted Graffiti band that his shows became brimming with the personality seen last week, with five other esteemed musicians coloring his compositions with their talent. In 2009, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti was finally signed to major label 4AD Records, the same label responsible for punk band Bauhaus, and dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins. With 4AD’s funding and guidance, the band released Before Today in 2010 to rave reviews and nearly-universal praise, landing top spots on Exclaim! Magazine and Pitchfork Media’s year-end lists. This momentum has continued throughout the 2010s, Ariel Pink’s nearly 20-year journey has finally been brought to fruition and exploding with phenomenal live shows.
This past Tuesday was no exception and served to further Union Transfer’s legacy and continue Ariel Pink’s uphill momentum. The band performed mostly new material from last year’s album, pom pom, but made sure to include favorites from earlier albums House Arrest and the Doldrums, like the songs “Artifact” and “Interesting Results.” What was most notable about the concert was how well-executed all of the compositions were. The band’s stellar musicianship shone as speedy bass runs and tricky multi-part harmonies soared over Ariel Pink’s songwriting. The individual musicians’ banter between the songs showed a group of friends instead of a band of session musicians hired by Pink, creating a lighthearted and playful atmosphere. At one point in between songs, Ariel Pink joked about how no amount of herbs and algae supplied by his bandmates could ever cure the cold he got when he ran outside in his underwear at midnight in December. The band proceeded to close with a ballad from pom pom, “Picture Me Gone,” a dolorous threnody of a parent separating from their young child. It was here that Pink demonstrated himself as powerful vocalist, his singing the standout facet of the song.
At the show’s conclusion, Pink made sure to introduce his band members and thank them for their performance, and then thank the audience for attending. This night successfully marked another in the Union Transfer Center’s catalog of star-studded shows with content concertgoers. In the next few months, Union Transfer plans on hosting indie favorites the Mountain Goats as well as death metal forefathers At the Gates.
Jeffrey Holmes is a third-year student dual-majoring in philosopy and English. He can be reached at JH firstname.lastname@example.org.