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all words: Philip Runco
all photos: Kimberly Cadena

You would be hard pressed to find more of a contrast between the wholesomeness of two parts of the same bill as was on display last Wednesday at Rock and Roll Hotel.

Memphis’ Magic Kids could hardly contain their preciousness. Band members looked plucked from the indoor kids of “Wet Hot American Summer.” The angular features of band leader Bennett Foster seemed intentionally offset by a nerdy summer camp anti-chic: a washed out t-shirt tucked firmly into frayed jean shorts.

The out-of-time innocence reverberated in the band’s music, a mélange of throwback pop: twee, doo-wop, baroque, and sunshine. In casting such a wide net, the band recalled predecessors (The Beach Boys, Jonathan Richman), contemporaries (The Boy Least Likely To, Richard Swift), and however you want to classify Langley Schools Music Project.

Given the range of influences, Magic Kids still managed to wrap everything into a cohesive whole. For a young group, the six-piece was tight and firing on all cylinders, particularly during the up-tempo power pop of “Superball, “Hey Boy”, and “Skateland”.

The highlights of their set came when the band departed from the revved up template. Over the meticulously orchestrated chamber pop of “Summer”, Foster’s normally nasally vocals took on winkingly suave croon á la Jarvis Cocker. At over four minutes, it was one of the few songs that took its time to fully blossom. Meanwhile, on closer “Cry with Me Baby”, Foster and his falsetto ventured enthusiastically into the crowd, his band’s bands sugary ‘60s rock recalling The Four Seasons from the stage.

A rechanneling of “Sherry” or “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is admittedly not everyone’s bag, but for a pop enthusiast, it’s a treat to see a band pull it off with so sincerely and convincingly.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti was a freak show of another variety.

Ariel Pink’s fun feels a little filthy. Moving around stage and mugging to the crowd, he reminded me of the scene in “Silence of Lambs” where Buffalo Bill eerily lip syncs “Goodbye Horses”, self-consciously sashaying side to side while leering towards a camcorder.

He emerged to an extended version “Hot Body Rub”. Sax blurting and Pink hoo-ha-ing all over the thing, the absurdity of its James-Brown-in-a-fun-house soul was all the more apparent.

Pink removed his sunglasses to reveal another pair of sunglasses underneath. He left the music to Haunted Graffiti, holding only a beer for much of the night. It was hard to imagine the guy had built so much of his following on the persona of the closeted weirdo. The guy looked completely in his element on stage, even if the smirk that crept often onto his face made the sincerity of his gestures suspects.

But does Pink’s sincerity even matter when Haunted Graffiti sounded so good? The band tore through the super sounds of the 70s and 80s with aplomb. It played up glam elements (“Menopause Man”), garage rock (“L’Estat”, “Bright Lit Blue Skies”), and soft-core lounge cheese (“Can’t Feel My Eyes”) over its 90 minute set.

As the night wore on, the band delved into the murkier and heavier entries of Pink’s catalogue. The more confrontational tone had the effect of clearing much of the room’s younger fans who had been satiated with a stunning version of blog-favorite “Round and Round” early.

Everyone loves a trip in the DeLorean back in time , so long as things don’t get too bumpy.