As the sound of a drum line swelled in the background at the end of Station to Station, a traveling music and visual arts festival sponsored by Levi’s, someone in the crowd shouted, “We must make way for the Cobras!” With that, the Kansas City Marching Cobras popped and locked across the parking lot of Brooklyn’s Riverfront Studios, forming a flashing line of pink and grey pom-poms and silver sequins. It was a fitting close to a night the show band had also opened with flying colors, setting off a spectacular chain of events that veered from fireworks, roller-skating dancers and a whip-master to the punishing sounds of proto-punk stalwarts Suicide and the sultry, psychedelic grooves of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.
Station to Station, which will travel across the country by train until wrapping up September 28th at Oakland’s 16th Street Station, kicked off its nine-city tour just in time for Fashion Week (which Pink acknowledged with a “Happy Fashion Week, and Happy Rosh Hashanah”). There certainly were a lot of well-dressed attendees filling up the enormous warehouse space, many of whom took the time before the music started to explore an outdoor cluster of artist-curated yurts. Like Alice in Wonderland, visitors could choose which rabbit hole to fall down: Artist Liz Glynn explained the Big Bang Theory in the black yurt, while the white yurt beckoned with wall-to-wall mirrors, smoke machines and a big white bed.
Before anyone got too cozy, the Marching Cobras showed up and led everyone indoors, stealing attention so effectively that few noticed No Age setting up. Drummer and singer Dean Allen Spunt locked onto a groove with the Cobras until they filed out and extras wearing weirdly-shaped yarn hats filed onstage. The Los Angeles noisemakers then plowed into “Fever Dreaming,” off 2010’s Everything In Between, keeping pace with the trains speeding across the backlit screens behind them. After just a few songs, followed as each artist was by a selection of film clips (including, later on, John Cage recounting his famous visit to Harvard’s anechoic chamber), Japanese artist Yoshimio – who’s also a member of Free Kitten with Kim Gordon – took the stage. Together with bassist Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Ryan Sawyer, who has played with Thurston Moore and Fiery Furnaces, she crafted a spontaneous, beguiling mix drawn from Chinese opera, free jazz, and doom metal. At one point, Sawyer imitated birds calling and the wind howling.
It’s telling that Ariel Pink’s set was one of the evening’s most conventional. Illuminated by pink house lights, his Haunted Graffiti churned out silky smooth renditions of fan favorites like Before Today‘s “Round and Round” and “Baby,” a cover of Donnie & Emerson’s 1979 rarity and the only time the venue acquiesced to his request to turn the lights down. Pink’s singing even showed up Dam-Funk, who provides the vocals for the recorded version. After that, it was onto three dancers moving their bodies so slowly that every muscle tremor was torturous to watch. Perhaps that was the idea, since Suicide’s volume was downright painful. Time may not have not been kind to Alan Vega, who walks with a cane, or keyboardist Martin Rev, who is long past the age where it’s acceptable to wear shiny drop-crotch pants. But the keyboardist still pounds and palms his synths with determination, and the sludgy pulse of songs like “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket USA” rocked Riverfront to its concrete floor.
After four hours of these dazzling stunts and the constant pull of different things to look at and listen to (and buy: one of the indoor yurts sold leather moccasins for two hundred dollars and a denim jacket embroidered with “Brooklyn” for double that), by the time the candy-colored smoke from the fireworks dissipated, the house lights were already on full blast. For a minute, it seemed like everyone was ready to go home and process what just happened. But the night was still young, and as musicians, artists and patrons kept mingling, it was clear this train wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.