what i watched last week
revisit: y tu mamá también (alfonso cuarón, 2001)

the truth about love

Between opening act The Hives and the appearance of Pink, a friend and fellow Bruce fan surprised me … he was sitting a few rows behind us. He was pretty excited, this being his first Pink show. He said he especially liked “Glitter in the Air”, and I told him, “spoiler alert, but she’ll sing that tonight”. He added that “Fuckin’ Perfect” is another of his faves, and I said he was in luck, she’d be playing that one, too. Now, Billy and I have been to a lot of Bruce shows ... he’s probably been to ten times as many as I have, overall. He’s used to concerts that have a predetermined structure that includes lots of places where song selections can be changed. So Billy looked at me and asked how I knew she would be singing those songs. “Because,” I told him, “she plays the same songs every night.”

This makes it sound like a Pink concert lacks spontaneity, and it is true, the set list has to be set in stone because of all the “production values”. I mean, at one point, she sang a duet with Nate Ruess on “Just Give Me a Reason”, even though Ruess wasn’t there … he was on a big video screen, though, singing his part as he does on the record. Bruce Springsteen might pull a sign out of the audience, treat it as a request, and tell the band they’re going to play some song they haven’t touched in 20 years, but Pink’s shows are choreographed … there’s no room for those kinds of requests.

It’s one of the remarkable things about Pink that whatever she does, she comes across as a real person. She’s a diva, a pop star, she puts on gargantuan concerts … yet when she talks to us between songs, she’s just Alecia Moore. She may not take requests, but she does comment on the signs, even stopping a few times to autograph one or two. She may have set pieces that are necessarily the same, night after night, but her patter is always off the cuff, and if she’s a perfectionist regarding her own safety during her more acrobatic moments, she’s also able to fluff a lyric in a way that makes her audience love her even more.

A couple of early reviews are out. Jim Harrington, in the Mercury News, wrote, “Pink is the new gold standard. … The singer, who now sports short blonde hair and favors outfits that show off her infomercial-worthy ripped stomach muscles, is absolutely magnetic onstage. … after watching the Truth About Love Tour, I can honestly say that few, if any, performers deliver better pop spectacles than Pink.” And here’s Maureen Coulter of Metroactive: “While she’s impressive on the radio or in videos, it’s hard to truly appreciate Pink until you’ve seen her live. The way she effortlessly busts out tear-jerking ballads, glides across the stage as she dances and banters with the crowd while genuinely appearing to have a good time is something you don’t see with just any Clive Davis-anointed singer.”

Before we saw Pink in 2009, I’d never been to a hyped-up, big-production pop star concert. Now I’ve been to two. The first time, I wondered if I was overrating the show because the extravaganza was new to me, but that wasn’t the situation last night, and I still thought it was a wonderful concert. Not everything worked … the show uses a game-show framing device that was pretty annoying (although, just before the show began, it resulted in Robin and I getting our mugs on the video screen when the “host” came over to our seats). Because Pink changes costumes so often, and because so many of the set pieces require special setups, there needs to be something going on when the star leaves the stage for a bit. In ‘09, this was mostly covered by the band vamping at the end of songs, perhaps most notably when guitarist Justin Derrico channeled his inner Jimmy Page on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. Pink deserves credit for trying something creative to fill in those gaps … I just don’t think it worked this time around.

For me, the show really hit its groove with “Try”. It began with Pink singing while twirling in the air. Her acrobatics are especially appropriate in songs like this, about rising above and trying again. Eventually she segued into a version of the dance in the “Try” video. She followed that with her only cover of the night, Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”, which smoldered. (http://youtu.be/nzNHsreiyfA) It was subdued … the best effect was the old-school microphone that was only a prop, but gave the performance the feel of, I don’t know, Billie Holiday? Then came the afore-mentioned “duet” with Nate Ruess, and the new song, “All We All We Are” (http://youtu.be/LSmOmFPDgsI).

Still, her reputation as a live performer demanded certain things, and we got one of them with the latest version of “Sober”, another song that works well within the acrobatic context (“I’m safe up high, nothing can touch me”):

She then put the glitz aside for quiet versions of “Family Portrait”, “Who Knew”, and “Fuckin’ Perfect”, the latter of which eventually erupted. At which point, she did an oldies medley. The first time I saw her, in 2002, she did a Janis Joplin medley. The last time I saw her, she covered the Divinyls, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Gnarls Barkley. This time, she did her own oldies, trotting out the three hit singles from her debut album, Can’t Take Me Home. It’s hard to imagine too many of the fans who put two of those songs in the top five on the R&B charts (one made #1) would have enjoyed the loud hard rock that Pink has favored for many years, but it was nice to see her give a shout out to her past. Then two recent hits, and she was gone.

The first encore, “So What”, featured a very simple acrobatic effect: Pink got into a harness and flew all around the arena like Peter Pan. (http://youtu.be/pBzxLGzcjFs) Our seats were in the lower deck, but in the corner farthest from the stage, yet at one point, she was only a few rows from us. She finished with a reprise of her performance of “Glitter in the Air” from the last tour, and I don’t think anyone was sorry that she used the same lovely, watery moves.

There seemed to be a few more men in the crowd than the last time, but we weren’t very loud … the cheers and screams were high-pitched enough that you knew who Pink’s core audience was. The woman who sat in front us was … well, I’m bad at this, I’ll guess late-60s. It was her first Pink show, and she’d come alone … she tried to get her niece to accompany her, but the youngster was away at college.

I don’t like to brag about the good old days … one of the best things about Bruce Springsteen’s late-career concerts are that they are good enough to match up to the legendary 1978 tour, so there’s no more “I was there” talk. But I have to point out that the first two times I saw Pink (2002 and 2006), it was in smaller venues and there wasn’t a lot of “show”. I’m not saying it was “better” seeing her at the Fillmore, although given her affinity for Janis Joplin, there was some sweetness to the idea, which she acknowledged. I can say that last night, Pink was pretty close to me for 20 seconds or so, but at the Fillmore, she was even closer, for the entire concert. It is too easy to get caught up in the amazing circus-like atmosphere of the last couple of tours, and thus I can say with certainty that I am glad I got to see her when she was just a singer at the Fillmore. But I can’t complain, or slip too far into nostalgia mode, because these big concerts are terrific: thoughtful, overwhelming, touching, thrilling. It says something that the two songs last night that brought tears to my eyes were both songs that Pink performed at least partly while dangling in the air (“Try” and “Sober”). Pink crosses so many barriers in her music (this is the person, after all, who followed her gazillion-selling hit, Missundaztood, by cutting an album with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong), and in her concerts, where she can sing a song with a quiet piano accompaniment, scream in front of her rockin’ band, and then touch the heart while flying. The only question remaining is one Ann Powers asked a couple of years ago: why isn’t she a bigger star? It’s all relative … she is a big star, to be sure. But it’s not clear than anyone outside of her hardcore fans know this, even though there are a lot of those fans. Like me, for instance.