Friday night Pains of Being Pure at Heart played to a full house at the Echoplex. Riding the wave of hype generated from last year's self-titled debut, these guys have managed to shake off their nerves and put together a charming set. They are no longer five bashful kids. There was a calmness and self-assurance to the set that only comes with constant touring.
Through a cloud of white smoke one could make out the shapes of the band members, lined up in a neat row along the front of the stage with the drummer in the back. Looking impossibly young, lead singer Kip Berman greeted the crowd and launched into "This Love Is Fucking Right!" The set was the glorious mash of nostalgic noise-pop sweetness and sad bastard lyrics--the kind that would make you start weeping if you weren't so busy hopping around.
They reproduced their album perfectly. There was no room for variation or adventurous exploration here. Everything had to be just so. Drummer Kurt Feldman was so on beat he sounded stiff. It was almost as if no human hands were touching the sticks. It was bizarre. It was a set built for people who believe in plastic slips on their furniture and toys that should be left in their packaging--so pristine. It would have been nice to see them loosen up a little and enjoy themselves.
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The crowd certainly did. When the first few bars of "Everything With You" came over the speakers there was an audible collective squeal and the room started to move. Like a high school dance number in a John Hughes movie, everyone broke out their best vintage Molly Ringwald moves.
Perhaps it was their freshly scrubbed appearances, but there is something about Pains of Being Pure at Heart that begs to be corrupted. This band writes excellent pop gems, but they are so very similar you can't help but want to ship them off to New Orleans or Morocco or Buenos Aires to give them a new perspective--add some funk?
A change of scene might already be on their minds. "Everytime we come here we have such a good time," keyboardist Peggy Wang announced near the end of the set, "We seriously entertain the idea of living here."
Perhaps that's what they need--Los Angeles!