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Cambridge’s venue Middle East, the upstairs part, is a pretty cool place to catch a show: it’s nice and small, allowing for intimacy, two bars on opposite walls ensure a pretty even distribution of people, and the side areas are slightly raised, which allow even shorter people to get a somewhat decent view of the goings-on. The small size also helps keep the acoustics relatively easy to manage for performers. It was surprising to see that on this particular night, the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, touring in support of their self-titled debut album (which was released less than two weeks ago), were able to sell out their gig at what is essentially a smaller satellite venue for a much larger one literally two doors away.


The noise-pop quartet has been steadily picking up steam, especially as 2009 hit. Their recent self-titled release is an album filled with Cure-esque pop tunes and guitar fuzz that will have the shoegaze fans pleased. The show in Cambridge marked a four-week break from touring for the band before picking up again in mid-March. There did seem to be some fatigue setting in among them: keyboardist/vocalist Peggy Wang seemed to be straining to project her voice, and Kip Berman’s singing was a bit thin and out of tune here and there. In spite of a relatively small area to fill, the acoustics weren’t kind to the Pains. The vocals were almost entirely washed out, and Wang’s keyboard may as well have not been there. In spite of these shortcomings, though, the Pains did a great job keeping momentum moving forward and giving the crowd some fast-paced and fun pop music to enjoy over their long weekend.

One good thing about seeing a band with a relatively small body of work is that you are almost guaranteed to hear them perform most of your favorite songs, and this concert was a prime example. It helps that most of the Pains’ album is pretty top-notch. It’s hard to hate on pop music like this – wistful and oddly nostalgic, bittersweet in that way you remember songs from middle school to be – too much. “This Love Is Fucking Right” moved along steadily, the perfect sort of song for driving in a city at night, youthful in Berman’s almost chime-y guitar solo. Things picked up with songs like “Come Saturday,” adding a bit more of a punk flavor to the mix and inducing bobbing heads across the audience.


Bassist Alex Naidus really stood out throughout the set as he managed to avoid looking like a bass player deftly. You know what I mean: standing still with a smirk on his face moving his head forward and backward all night. In fact, Naidus never really stopped moving, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other in rhythm, always looking down and nodding to his instrument. It makes sense, since bass is pretty important with regard to the band’s sound: it’s very seldom sustained, instead constantly pushing forward relentlessly in eighth and sixteenth notes, particularly in songs like “Young Adult Friction,” which was one of the finer performances of the night. The whole band seemed really into what they were playing. The song ended on a really great build-up, a repeated refrain of “Don’t check me out” repeated several times while the band worked itself into a frenzy. Not to be outdone by his bandmates, drummer Kurt Feldman played the crap out of his set all night, wailing on his cymbals and smacking his toms and bass drum like they would get upset if they didn’t receive enough attention.

The shoegaze-y aspects of the Pains of Being Pure At Heart didn’t really come through too well on the live stage, unfortunately. This may have been that they avoided their particularly dreamy songs (“Contender” and “Gentle Sons” are the prime candidates), but this reason likely came from the fact that the band was simply limited in the amount of sound that could be thrown up with their setup. If Wang had been given a guitar and spent all evening emitting dense walls of guitar noise, or if her keyboard had been turned up and taken fuller advantage of, it would have helped thicken things up a bit.

There’s also something to be said about the band being relatively new to the scene, and likely less traveled than other acts out there. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s studio work is good enough that their musicality can’t be doubted. At this point it’s more a matter of them getting their performance down. Adding more layers of sound would be really well-suited for the group’s sound, and hopefully they’ll continue the road they’re on towards sheer blessed-out pop goodness. Their performance was a fine one, though, to be sure. The audience walked away glad to have seen a fine up-and-coming band close out their tour, and they’ll likely be drawing a lot more attention to themselves when they perform two sets at this year’s SXSW festival.

Things are looking pretty good for the Pains right now.

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