Live: Mercurial Man. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, York Hall.

It seems strangely apt that Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti should make their London return – and their first show in the capital since the release of Rosenberg's frankly disastrous latest long-player, Mature Themes – playing as part of the Illuminations Festival. Traditionally a secular shindig coated in ersatz gleam – fairy lights, premature festive luminescence, and so forth – this one has taken over various venues for one week only, attracting the varying talents of How To Dress Well, Ital, and Gaggle amongst others. But tonight is particularly intriguing, as it's the first opportunity we've been afforded to gauge how well Ariel Rosenberg et al.'s most recent weighs in live.

First though, some light is to be shed on the much extolled phenom that is Blood Diamonds. Well, before that Rosenberg's longterm roomie and onetime inamorata Geneva Garvin (aka Geneva Jacuzzi) performs some utterly inessential electro panto that's a little like existential po-mo, and a load like a craftless Kraut pastiche. A shrieking picture of martial androgyny, she romps around the place with a neon umbrella whilst Rosenberg and his cronies act out the insurgent proclivities of high school tykes. He sits in silence; dead to the world, engrossed in doodle. Not that there's anything to break his evident disinterest: Pinkish tones may be suffused throughout, yet the rambunctious garble that is Geneva Jacuzzi and that which she effervesces proves a thoroughly disenchanting void nauseating as pissed jeans. Rosenberg's enduring lefthand man, Tim Koh, chews on something indeterminate only for Garvin to snatch it, scoff it, and promptly spew it. This may be an insight into pre-show dietary arrangements cherished by some, but it's hammy acting irregardless. Quite disquieting am-dram, almost, led by a central protagonist that resembles Claire Boucher post-pawn store rummage in search of belated Hallowe'en garb. She's come as Love. Angel. Music. Baby-era Stefani, and she gets little to no love from anybody in attendance.

Blood Diamonds, however – or Mike Diamond as he's known in the sleaze-holes of Southern California – looks a little more like Skrillex doing Patrick Wolf circa-The Bachelor and sounds significantly worse than one could ever imagine a lovechild of the two to be. Visibly, the 'Diamonds have all been spunked on the visual – bespoke trigger strobes deer-headlight from the back of the unanticipatedly stately York Hall – whilst the musical aspect has been left to fester. Prior to yet more superfluous electro blowout, Diamond turns prissy, effing, shitting and blinding at recalcitrant Casio trash. It's all rather eBay chic – from the tatty, shoulder-padded cloak to the tawdry bling that dangles from his neck – thus it's of little wonder that the inevitable happens and his refractory custom lighting trips all sorts of switches as the show swiftly powers down, what with these spots a bedazzling blare and the sound a hollow bellow. Diamond barely looks in control at any moment, either. But even when the gear works, musically, it never will. One track sounds akin to Taio Cruz' Dynamite; another more to budget Balearic isle than Bethnal Green. Scrap that – it's more living-for-the-weekend Chelmsford, in fact. And within this great enormodome-cum-school disco aesthetic, sightless beyond thick fringe and shades Diamond palpably personifies what Robyn was on about in Dancing on My Own. For as alright as Visions may have been, it has inadvertently opened eyes and ears to such monstrosities.

A disproportionate amount of Yank then begins to swarm and infest the front few rows. It's an interesting skew in demographic, and perhaps indicative of Rosenberg being yet to fully cross over into the illuminating, and with that lucrative territories of the more mainstream consciousness that his recent shift to a more hi-fi sound may suggest. Such thoughts are pondered upon the creaky boards of what is, in fact, one of the country's most notorious boxing haunts though the room feels more like the sort of environ in which braincells would be celebrated, and not clobbered to a duller grey. It pertains to the cerebral ambience of an exam room. Anyhow, the stage is promptly cluttered with all manner of alcohol: IPA, oaky whisky, and champagne. There may be cause for celebration, after all.

Although dishearteningly inescapably, this is not to be the case. The show may be sold out, and as Rosenberg's attentive pupils heave and ho one may be led back to recollections of a throbbing Astoria of yore – a venue to have long since passed its sell-by date. Indeed, it expired around the time at which MP3s came into a forceful state of being, thereby initiating a slow yet sure decline in physical sound. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti don't exactly embody an artistry in many ways embracive of our modern-day digital age, though whereas Rosenberg was once estranged from the contemporary in a world of cassettes and reels, tonight he demonstrates advance. It may not bring him quite up to the breakneck speeds at which we consume absolutely anything at hand, ear or eye at the minute, but there's a sense of progress in there somewhere.

Armed with a wireless mic, he emerges only to immediately recede back into backstage haven. As such, Symphony of the Nymph is watched rather than witnessed, a splurge of vague things transmitted via VCR and projected onto a slapdash screen overhead. Geneva Jacuzzi mans the handheld with far greater skill than she does a Madonna mic, scrolling through a series of FX presets as Rosenberg yelps and yowls into the meshing of his cordless. It's another example of reversed voyeurism; of Ariel deriving creative focus from his illuming of realms usually reserved for the artist, and the artist only. But, as impudent American football chants of his forename overwhelm the mantric drones of "Dr. Mario/ Colonoscopist" etc, you can't help but feel that this is Pink's penchant for subversive gimmickry and vainglorious posturing gone too far. Will he headbang his way through the show in its entirety from the seclusion of a greenish corridor? And are we to behold anything not already contained within YouTube?

It's irritating to the point of the impertinent, and it does little to reconcile any dwindling affections for the 'Haunted Graffiti. Though the band itself – his inexplicably steadfast collaborators – carry the show where Rosenberg elsewhere crumbles. They're the chalet band to end all chalet parties – tighter than Pink's spindly 'pipes. The farcical N64 tunage of Is This The Best Spot? follows and the trio keep to the disconnected gobbledygook of their director with an estimable precision yet otherwise it's loose and sloppy. Pink jiggles his new lopsided hairdo as nine minutes of irrefutable nonsense become committed to tape. It's excruciating, and explicitly exemplifies his distant, alien demeanour. Does he feel any human connection with anyone to have ever supported him? I highly doubt it, although at least he's tonight yet to hurl proverbial toys, wireless microphone, nor antiquated Handycam from the pram as is oft his wont.

"How does it look? Does it look OK?" he gurgles as though burbling WC. He's feigning an interest, but it's flimsy at best. For this is Pink smudging the fine lines between inquisitive voyeur and ignominious poseur. Musically too, the 'Haunted Graffiti draw some fairly sketchy boundaries between sumptuous spectral pop, and sludgy old indie fodder – the sort surrounding the Astoria in its Zone 1 resting place. Only In My Dreams glides into the former category, and tonight sounds like lost R.E.M. soothe produced by a certain Spector whilst Kinki Assassin is an ebullient latter clogged with Pink's unintelligible drivel lyrical. Needless to say vocally, Pink is more comfortable when opting for dulcet mid-tones as opposed to his brittle falsetto trill, and this too is symptomatic of quite how symbiotic Ariel Pink and his show really are. Though it's a symbiosis without any obvious advantages, as the bad makes the good out to be better than it'd maybe otherwise seem, and yet this good is irrevocably cheapened by this bad. There's a chasmic gulf in quality between Before Today and Mature Themes, with Among Dreams serving as an elucidation of a substantially preferable past beyond the both of them.

Though plumped up to a sanguine bulge, the slumped funk successes of Menopause Man are indebted to Koh's lithesome, if loungin' bass whilst Fright Night (Nevermore) substantiates Pink's proclivity for whimsical falsetto. But even when the night's alright – as these two belters indubitably are – Rosenberg is as though a parody of his former self; a half-baked and wholly stoned nostalgia caricature. He's a hapless inhabitant of cloud cuckoo; a Houdini-esque con artist caught in a precarious game that may, one day, bring about his end. For his brain is seemingly decomposing with the gradual release of each record as this now shrivel of a man clasps a hand torch tight – his only vice. He shines it in the palest of faces – faces reflecting absolute bemusement as we squirm for any form of comfort.

An exultant Round And Round spins into a discordant motorik dull that almost sounds as Nostradamus & Me was originally intended to, before Rosenberg really snaps it one final time, breaking down in a blizzard of hissed goodbyes and howled inanity. "This is dance music!" an aforesaid Yank straid outta Hunner S. T. sleaze yaps as we stand static. He's patently with him, though he's one of an almost entirely negligible number. And tonight again illustrates to us all how unknowable, and ultimately intangible the world of this harebrained sociopath has become. He's in a world of his own – a world of his own making in which he's topping the charts weekly, even with the languorous blurts of Early Birds of Babylon. But as Rosenberg becomes increasingly, and with that infuriatingly mercurial the distance between we and he is no longer one worth fighting to truncate.