Live review of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at KCSU London 03/03/11, Originally published on The Line Of Best Fit
“Just Gimme Indie Rock!”: four simple, yet life changing words. Lou Barlow’s prophetic scream is 20 years old this year, the age when one no longer visits home from university and has the first experience of unpaid electricity bills. Second year into a new life, when deadlines are jumping off points for further negotiations and a Yellow Card is gold dust. Didn’t it grow up fast!
I’m proud of indie rock for getting here; it’s had a difficult upbringing. First it had to survive grunge and britpop, then the dad-rock wars, when many a once great band fell (Verve). During the first great Travis-led-acoustic-yawn, little Jimmy-indie-rock had to masquerade as Placebo just to find a blanket and weak broth. Puberty is difficult in most cases, but for our hero it was a torrid time: Skinny jeans were electroclashing with glow sticks for years, before a draw was called. Then it was time for the second-great-Mumford-led-accoustic-yawn. Now, twenty years old, rejuvenated as a pimple and grease free hipster, “Just Gimme Indie Rock” is back on top, this time with hair neatly cropped, and without the slacker attitude. Heading the wave is The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.
For this Brooklyn quartet tonight at a sold out Kings College Student Union feels like a home coming celebration. Having recorded their forthcoming album Belong in London with Alan Moulder and Flood, and played the city’s toilet circuit relentlessly, they have an army of friends, fans and ‘Gentle Sons’, with vocalist Kip Berman eager to thank everyone he can. As this is their last UK date before heading back to tour the US, tonight is an appreciated gift to showcase new material helped by some special UK based guests.
Swervedriving us in to 1991 is opening support, The History Of Apple Pie an incredibly young band to be playing a date like this, but seemingly with fuzzy lo-fi built in to their DNA. On stage they are straight from a hazy dream, where Kevin Shields is on each side of the stage, shredding in to a sonic wall while a Young Marble Giants vocal drifts from centre stage. They’re exactly the kind of band you want to miniaturise and take to ATP, so you can unpack them in your chalet to chaperone your own personal Haribo and glitterball comedown.
Louis Jones’ Spectrals are the transfer rumour in the preseason lull of early March. Outside is still cold and dark, but in here the dingy student venue is suddenly a holiday house on Malibu Beach, bathed in sunshine melodies. Jones’ songs have come direct from Phil Spector’s mind, had he gone to the desert to hide from his own craziness with only a pedal steel guitar and a bottle of sunny delight for company. ‘Peppermint’ and ‘7th Date’ are perfect dusty laid back countrified Merry Melodies and new song ‘Get It In’ has encapsulates the mid 60’s with a space age excitement and swooning tremolo. Spectrals live are finally living up to Jones’ obvious talent, and with an imminent debut album summer can rightfully be theirs.
In life it’s the fine details which mark out quality, be that a decent CD inlay with lyrics and good thank you list to geek over, or a well-aged sack cloth cheese with a robust Merlot. With bands it’s stage presence, and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have that before they’re even seen. The Bass and Guitars are set up at the front of the stage, facing back, in their stage positions: not at the back- looks amateurish, no roadies handing them over-too cocky, and no walking on with them-has anyone done that since the Beatles anyway? These strings are there, waiting organically, as if the expectant stage was tailored just for tonight.
Once in position, the venue is filled with surging fuzz laden guitars and major chords hooked around melodies just on the right side of twee. ‘Come Saturday’ and ‘This is Love is Fucking Right’ come across like indie classics which in a parallel universe would soundtrack an uber-hipster version of Friends, while ‘Stay Alive’ beautifully anthemic and could easily be House of Love at their very best. The songs from their eponymous debut are a perfect homage to their early 90’s shoegazey influence and are great for the predominantly older crowd, but it’s the new tracks from Belong which truly ignite this show.
Played mid set, ‘Heart in your Heartbreak’ is 100 per-cent indie disco anthem: turbulent distortion, floating keyboards and pirouetting harmonies. It’s the song The Strokes should have come back with. ‘Belong’ still has the distortion of The Pains… but tonight’s version has enormo-dome potential, with Siamese Dream era Smashing Pumpkins coursing through it. ‘Say No To Love’ could be straight from a 1995 Wannadies record, filled with jangly riffs to compliment Berman’s understated vocals. Considering the majority of the crowd saw all this first time around there is no feeling of parody, instead there’s a sense of returning to a time when people spent their money on guitars and wrote songs about broken hearts.
For the encore we’re reminded of why The Pains… have gained the following they have. ‘Everything With You’ and ‘Hey Paul’ summarise all the guitar greats with ‘Velocity Girl’ drums and Ride’s guitars all delivered with drive that can only be delivered with a band knowing they’re on the ascendance. Upon their return later in the year, The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart are sure to be playing major venues, so to have one final opportunity to see them in these fairly intimate setting was a privilege. The audience were gripped and the band, obviously thankful, was there straight away to speak to fans. There is a definite bond with London, and London can lay claim to helping birth a mature and invigorated Indie Rock.