As my recent review of Belong made fairly plain, I’m a geek for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I love the rampant distortion that runs rampant over the jangly guitar riffs. The bittersweet odes to young love recall those first few “this-is-the-one” crushes many of us experienced in college and our early 20’s. It’s then wrapped up in the fancy bow that is the interplay between Kip Berman’s breathy tenor lead vocals and the sharp pop arrangements. And what’s best about the whole scenario is that, as opposed to many other indie rock outfits with this level of buzz, this quartet (who tours as a quintet) knows how to deliver the music from its records into a great live show.
Thus, I was excited to be able to see the group in my city for the first time last Friday night. Unfortunately, the touring opener, the fantastic Twin Shadow, was unable to perform this night because of illness, but I was glad to hear that Houston, TX act The Watermarks would be serving as the local opener. The three-guys-and-a-girl quartet hit the stage around 9:30pm and proceeded to deliver a six-song set of its own rollicking brand of ‘90s indie guitar rock. The band’s sound was somewhat dim throughout the first two songs, but the venue sound guy remedied the situation by song three, allowing the guitar crunch to match the energetic drummer’s dance-rock rhythms. Songs four through six were marked by great guy-girl harmonies between the lead singer and bassist and some creative indie pop-rock with subtle ‘60s psych-rock influences. I was proud of The Watermarks for being both an excellent table-setter for the touring act and a great representative of Houston’s current music climate.
After a few microphone concerns during soundcheck, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart walked onto the stage around 10:40pm to a rousing cheer from a sweaty crowd of approximately 150 people. What followed was a superb example of ‘80s-into ‘90s indie guitar rock of both the vintage and contemporary redux varieties. Playing a healthy portion of tunes from the group’s two critically acclaimed full-lengths, huge major-chord pop songs were supported by dense, layered distortion, fantastic guitar tones, and Peggy Wang’s tasteful synth melodies for flavor. And it was readily apparent that these five kids have seriously honed their chops through heavy touring in the last two-plus years, as the music was tight, the chemistry was apparent, Kip’s stage banter was engaging, and they were having fun with their music.
It was also rather obvious that the crowd was laden with an ample amount of fan-boys and fan-girls, because there were only a couple of songs (namely, the non-single tracks from Belong) throughout the night that didn’t get receive a loud cheer at the onset, dancing throughout, and plenty of singing along with the lyrics. The singles from the band’s 2009 self-titled debut – “This Love Is Fucking Right!,” “Come Saturday,” and “Young Adult Friction” – received the biggest reception, but “Belong,” “Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now,” and “Heart In Your Heartbreak” from this year’s record were loudly cheered as well.
As I left the venue with a pleasingly loud buzz in my ears, two thoughts ran through my head: 1) I was really impressed with the friendly, eager, and expectant mood that ran through the crowd all night; and 2) That enthusiastic, up-tempo disposition was met warmly and rewarded by two fantastic sets of music. With any luck, The Watermarks will gain a bit more notoriety within its hometown (and then beyond). Furthermore, it seems that The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart really enjoyed themselves in Houston, TX on this night, so I hope this positive experience compels them to visit us again soon. It’s always good to realize that, no matter what the hip trends might be in certain circles, there are people out there still want to write and listen to great guitar-driven pop songs.
“This Love Is Fucking Right!”
“A Teenager In Love”
“Heaven’s Gonna Happen Now”
“Heart In Your Heartbreak”
“My Terrible Friend”
“Young Adult Friction”
“Even In Dreams”
“Everything With You”
“The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart”