The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Live @ Bristol Thekla Social
November 30, 2009
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

Having sent The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart an e-mail Q&A this past January and played their debut long player so much, that it has since gone on to become one of my favourite records of 2009. It was cause for celebration, when I found out that the band would be pulling into the Bristol Thekla Social and working their magic on a particularly enthused and adoring audience – who had a reservoir of love for the New Yorker’s damn fine tunesmithery! Discerning music fans who like myself, all most likely cottoned on to the group’s credentials earlier this year as well.

Thinking back to some of the points that I made in my introduction, which preceded the interview at the time, everything that I wrote about the band’s headrush music and hoped for from tonight’s gig, all fell into place; Songs coated with a retro glaze and crackling with energy – check! Like being submerged in a tuneful, blissed-out flotation tank – check! Calming, trebly and sweet-as-candy C86 melodies – check! Sumptuous, soft and syrupy boy / girl vocals – check! Sizeable scoops of warm lo-fi distorted shoegaze fuzz, all trickled with beatific jangly guitars – check!

Striding onstage and opening with an unbuttoned version of This Love Is Fucking Right! bang on at 9pm, the song’s risqué and scabrous subject matter, is somewhat at odds with the quartet’s smiley and genteel demeanour. But in many ways – and most likely by design – beneath the surface of a lot of TPOBPAH’s poppier moments, there seems to be an inherent desire to infiltrate the mainstream and subvert from within, by carefully sugar-coating dark lyrical content. Possibly with a nudge and a sly wink (and in much the same way as Suede did with Animal Nitrate and So Young all those years ago), getting one over on unsuspecting DJs and casual listeners.

Tight, disciplined, on fighting form and with loud cheers encouraging them on, a lucid / scalpel-sharp 103, is followed by Young Adult Friction. Which with a poetic eye, details a romantic liaison in a library of all places and is lifted up with a gold-plated / steamrollering guitar solo – moving both hearts and hips! Afterwards, lead singer Kip tells the crowd: “I met a really cool guy earlier on, who just got back from Afghanistan and he knows more about music than I do!” Whilst sounding extremely pretty and like it could have been siphoned from a soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, the top drawer Stay Alive, does however feature some desperately lonely lyrics: “Come on down, the furthest reaches of your nowhere town, they suck you in, the black hole kids won’t let you free again.”

As the final note rings out, a punter shouts: “Welcome to Bristol – you’re doing great!” Kip, Peggy, Alex and Kurt all chuckle, before Kip spots a super fan in the front-row, who this evening, is unbelievably attending his 17th gig! “You’ve been to more Pains’ shows than me,” Kip quickly quips, to which the fan warmly smiles. A showstopping A Teenager In Love – complete with its groovy bass rundown – is divine, but again, utilises yet another dark lyrical theme: “You don’t need a friend, when you’re a teenager in love with Christ and heroin.”

Following a pendulous Twins, Kip remarks: “You know those bands who can talk to the audience whilst tuning their guitars? Well, we’re not one of those bands… we’ll work on it for the next album!” Everyone laughs. Come Saturday is one of the catchiest numbers in The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s songbook and along with the “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh” shards – all of which are sung right back at the group by the crowd. It’s also brushed with Peggy’s keyboard arpeggios / flourishes and her honeyed harmonies, with a chorus: “But come Saturday, you’ll come to stay…” that will set up home in your head and never leave!

The sublime and subtly addictive Higher Than The Stars, from the band’s new EP, is a stroke of genius and is followed by yet another new song, Say No To Love, which shows that TPOBPAH are keen to shake things up, progress sonically and not merely be seen as a one-trick pony / C86 students. “Thanks for coming out on a school night” jokes Peggy, “We can’t believe that this is our fourth UK Tour and we’ve never played in Bristol before!” I think I can safely speak for everyone in attendance when I say, I’m so glad that they now finally have! The group then play the track and their namesake, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

For the encore, Everything With You, is dedicated by Kip to “anyone who’s ever made out with their best friend.” Then, after 11 songs and with its galloping Jesus And Mary Chain backbeat drum sound, Gentle Sons is a fantastic finale to a well-balanced and solid set, ending with a make-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stand-up, feedback-fighting, meltdown, screeching guitar solo. A beautiful torrent of cacophonous noise!

Kip, Peggy, Alex and Kurt still smiling (you can sense how much they love what they do), wave goodbye to everyone and look totally happy with their performance.

Tonight, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – who in today’s pop’s waters, sound out of time and out of place – proved that they are built to last! And that with songs that you can emotionally invest yourself in and which provide a lifeline to another world, being pure at heart is a pain well worth living with.

Especially when music like theirs can be such a wonderful medicine!

A very special thanks to Tasha @ Anorak London, for all of her time and help.

Bristol Set List

This Love
Stay Alive
Come Saturday
Higher Than The Stars
Say No To Love
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Everything With You
Gentle Sons

“If you shut out the sun
The day will never come
If you turn on your side
This night won’t come undone”