December 2nd 2009
It’s been a hell of a year for New Yorkers The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. They’ve triumphantly ridden a wave of blog-driven hype for the whole of 2009, picking up a legion of plaudits for their effortlessly wonderful debut album which has culminated in a top 10 place in our very own albums of the year poll. I had them far higher than 8th in my own personal list, but hey, such is democracy…
Tonight’s trip to Newcastle’s O2 Academy 2 sees them hauling in a respectably sized crowd of skinny check-shirted types. At first, it seems they are going to struggle to live up to our (admittedly colossal) expectations, as the songs commence in a worryingly anaemic manner. ‘This Love is Fucking Right!’, one of the most buoyant, gleeful moments on the record raises the curtain in fairly underwhelming fashion, as it is tossed out almost indifferently. It gives us serious cause to worry that Newcastle’s first experience of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will be a disappointing one.
However, after a couple of songs, the band visibly begin to relax and settle into their stride. As they do so, the volume seems to pick up, the drumming seems sharper and more urgent, and their distinctive wash of sound fills the room. It all culminates fittingly in the sky-scraping ‘Gentle Sons’, a microcosm for the whole set which starts off with a powerful ‘Be My Baby’ drumbeat and gradually builds into a tumult of almost My Bloody Valentine-esque proportions.
In spite of the obvious progression in the quality of the performance, sadly the Academy remains absolutely devoid of atmosphere. Maybe it’s down to the less than top-quality sound which obscures the vocals even more than is probably intended, or whether the crowd are just having a bit of an off-night, it’s hard to say. However, it doesn’t make the band’s job any easier, nor does it reflect on their efforts to engage us with their songs and occasional smattering of likeably awkward between-song chatter.
One other slight gripe is that it is clear that the newer songs are the ones which inspire the most enthusiasm in the band. In particular, the tracks aired from their gorgeous new ‘Higher Than the Stars EP’ seem to be delivered with the most fervour, as does the apparently nameless new song (very much in the vein of their previous work, by the way, and no worse off for it). It seems that perhaps they’ve now reached that stage which all bands will eventually reach after having toured the living shit out of their debut for God knows how many months. No matter how good the songs, their jadedness in playing them night after night after night begins to show. Tonight is only a minor example of this, and we still leave with our faith in The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart firmly in tact, but perhaps now is the time for them to go to ground and commence the daunting task of following up this year’s breathtaking recorded output.