The Legendary Pink Dots are one of the most prolific bands that you may never have heard. In 2016 alone they’ve released a new studio album, Pages of Aquarius, a double-disc release in their long-running Chemical Playschool series of soundscapes (this one numbered 19 & 20), and several live recordings. And that’s a fairly typical (somewhat slow, even) year in Pink Dots-land. Existing somewhere in a hard-to-categorize space between psychedelic rock, post-punk, avant-garde experimentalism, and industrial noise, the band has built a small but faithful following over the three and a half decades of their existence.
With an ever-changing lineup, the band’s sound has changed significantly over the years, though the core throughout has been singer Edward Ka-Spel and electronics wizard The Silverman (Phil Knight). Dutch guitarist Erik Drost joined the band in 2003, and they began performing in their latest incarnation as a trio after the departure of saxophonist Niels van Hoorn in 2010. It was this electronics-heavy version of the band that returned to the US for their first tour here since 2013.
The band opened the show with “D-Train,” a track from Pages of Aquarius, and then went all the way back to the album Curse from 1983 for “Love Puppets.” The all-too-short setlist (only ten songs from a catalog of hundreds, though to be fair many of them were quite long) jumped back and forth between the old – “So Gallantly Screaming” from 1985’s Asylum – to the extremely new – “Real World” from the just-released Chemical Playschool 19. The ever-evolving “City of Needles” (originally from 1992’s Shadow Weaver) got a new set of dystopian lyrics, Ka-Spel affecting an American accent to narrate in the voice of an abusive authority figure on a “mission to build a brave new world.”
The show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn was opened by Orbit Service, the solo project of Randall Frazier, who has also served as the Pink Dots’ sound engineer on this tour. Frazier crouched on the floor over an array of electronics creating soundscapes and adding occasional vocals, performing tracks from his latest release, Stereo Magic (Portal in 13 Parts).