When a label makes it to five years, it’s really something worth celebrating. Mexican Summer is a label that has not only had the drive and strength to make it that far, but (as we explored in depth last week) they’ve also developed a distinct and unique sound along the way. The anniversary was decadently celebrated this past weekend at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn. Converted from an old warehouse into the kind of place that you could imagine people spending devastating amounts of money on for a wedding, it was a beautiful location — spacious, but intimate. The two-day event, which featured label alums Ariel Pink and Spiritualized alongside up-and-comers like Happy Jawbone Family Band and Weyes Blood, felt more like a birthday party than a concert. People came and went from the performances inside to the garden out back where fans, performers, and label people all lounged around eating burgers, drinking beers, and watching little kids run around with family dogs.
That laid-back quality worked with the performances as well. The Fresh & Onlys played a stripped-down Friday night set (two members couldn’t make it, I was later told), which included a last-minute drummer working with only a snare, shakers, and a cymbal. It fit the vibe perfectly though, and despite the size of the space they played with the intimacy conducive to a small venue. Later Natalie Mering’s excellent solo-project Weyes Blood, which blends tape-looped sonic sizzles and crunches with delicate, ethereal folk, provided a very special show for people who showed up early on Saturday afternoon. “I’m going to do a cover since it’s the anniversary show,” Mering said at the close before hitting play on a warped recording of Brenda Lee’s stone-cold classic (and #1 hit in 1960) “I’m Sorry.” In just a few minutes, she summed up everything great about Mexican Summer. Another small miracle came in Linda Perhac’s first New York performance, who brought many of the highlights from her one album, the massively influential 1970 record Parralellograms. Perhac’s banter brought the crowd together in a way that you rarely see at a show, her modest response to her legacy earning both laughs and cheers (“He said, ’your song is in the Daft Punk movie,’ and I said ’Wow! It’s in the Daft Punk movie!’… but then I had to ask,’what’s Daft Punk?’”) The real delight of the entire event however belonged to one man: Ariel Pink, whose stunning Friday set was a two-hour sprawl of psychedelic drift.
As Haunted Grafitti set up, and the projector came on to reveal the Scooby Doo opening credits (the spooky house with the ghost letters) reappropriated to show off the band’s name, Pink came out smoking a cigarette and announced, half-joking, half-ominous: “Welcome to summer school,” in the sort of tone that made it sound like the tagline to a Troma film. If the whole event was like a birthday party, Pink was like the distant, weirdo relative who crashes the event and shakes everything up. Opening with a chaotic jam that would have made Captain Beefheart smile, they eventually pulled focus and broke into “Only In My Dreams.” Ariel Pink and his band are major horror fans, as the projection proved with it’s video collage by Alex Lee Moyer. Edited together were shots of Freddy Kreuger (specifically from the third and fourth installments of Nightmare On Elm Street), some famous horror scenes via the Italian masters (Argento’s Suspiria made an appearance along with every gruesome kill from Fulci’s The Beyond and Zombi) plus heavy use of the the trippy Japanese obscurity-turned-modern-classic, House. All the clips were films chosen by the band and put together by Moyer, bassist Tim Koh told me the next day while he was DJing, and it all synched up with the music perfectly. The opening chords to “Hang On To Life” matched with the couple, hand-in-hand, as they walk into hell at the end of The Beyond; later, “Haunted Graffiti” blended with warped footage of Battlefield Earth mashing avant-garde, pop culture, bad taste, and general goofiness, a combination of which Pink has become a master.
Focusing on the band, you can see the intense musicianship required to make these songs sound so warped and otherworldly — Koh’s bass playing in particular is like a thread that holds all the chaos together. That song was a powerful enough closer to trigger greedy encore shouts of “six more songs!” from the audience — and crazily enough, that’s pretty much what we got. It wasn’t exactly six songs, but the roughly 30-minute encore allowed the band to jam and improvise for the folks who felt like staying late. It was here that Pink channeled the shambling, distorted pop of his earliest recordings perfect for an audience starting to succumb to the lateness of the hour. He brought the best performance of the weekend and even after seeing him in so many performances over the years, the best I’ve seen him do.