The Pains of Being Pure at Heart Fitzgerald's April 9, 2011
Houston's Friday show circuit was enough to make any music fan's head spin: While droves were at Toyota Center taking in the artistic freak show that is Lady Gaga, the city's alternative crowd was crammed into Fitzgerald's for one of two buzzworthy shows: Warpaint (upstairs) and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart (downstairs).
As if the live-music gods thought they dealt us a too-lucky hand, Pains' scheduled opener, Twin Shadow (an act we were equally, if not more, eager to see), canceled at the last minute, citing health problems. But the second openers, Houston's Watermarks, picked up the slack and set the stage for New York's indie darlings.
Fresh off the release of their sophomore album, 2011's Belong, Noise-popsters the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have further cemented their easily distinguishable sound, a precise blend of resurrected early-'80s New Wave and Britpop atop the distorted crunch of grunge-era guitars.
"We'll try to be two bands for you tonight," promised Pains front man Kip Berman, acknowledging Twin Shadow's absence.
Aftermath had first seen the Pains at SXSW '09; funnily enough, Friday's show didn't veer too far from the same show experience two years prior - they were consistently loud and distorted, without much diversion from their rooted song-style. Keyboardist Peggy Wang contributed frequent backup vocals; unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to hear her during most of the show.
The sound in general was muffled, but then again, so are Pains' records; an intended muffle, if you will. The group plowed through their set list, offering little between-song chatter, though Berman did fill us on in on the band's first time eating crawfish - which was, unbelievably, earlier that day.
Evidently, most of the Pains didn't take to the Cajun staple, except for Wang, as Berman jokingly poked fun at her newfound appetite for crawfish. Wang, her long locks masking her baby face, smiled through the set's entirety.
The band traded off new material including "My Terrible Friend" and "The Body" with tracks from their 2009 self-titled debut, like the fantastic "Stay Alive" and "Come Saturday," each of which warranted noticeably positive responses from the crowd; Belong track "Even In Dreams" closing the set. The band was barely off the stage as the crowd began the all too familiar but still flattering "one more song" chant.
Berman returned to the stage, sweaty and desperately gripping a water bottle as he approached the mic. "We're going to play another song for you," he announced, visibly winded from the heat. "But we need to drink some water first," he continued, "because it's really fucking hot here in Houston!"
Fitz's frequenters know how steamy a sold-out, impassioned rock show can be in the venue's intimate downstairs room. But add the Pains' hipster NYC uniform of black denim, boots, and tights under jean shorts (yeah, layers in Houston), it's no wonder the Yankees were all dripping with sweat.
Encore opener "Everything With You" was a definite standout, while Pains B-side "The Pains of Being Pure at Heart" closed the set, the crowd singing along in unison with Berman's repeated "We will never die" chorus.
Ultimately, Pains critics can be split into two contrasting camps: First there's the Pains Optimist, who believes, in essence, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." As in, the band does a flawless job at perfecting and prolonging the preceding greatest of New Wave greats - Why listen to the Smiths, the Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order when we can see the second-best-thing before our own wistful eyes?
Then there's the Pains Pessimist, who fears the band is a one-trick indie pony with no new tricks up their sleeves.
In the end, we feel they're a bit of both.
Personal Bias: It was a consumate rock show: sweaty, loud, hot, and crowded. What's not to like?
The Crowd: Lots (and we mean lots) of twentysomethings wearing black-and-white striped shirts. We must have counted ten, including on Pains' guitarist Christoph Hochheim. Did we miss the striped-shirt memo?
Overheard In the Crowd: "Change the baby!"
Random Notebook Dump: First runner-up in the Jack White Lookalike Contest goes to Pains drummer Kurt Feldman. You're welcome.
Belong This Love Is Fucking Right! A Teenager in Love The Body Heaven's Gonna Happen Now Stay Alive Heart in Your Heartbreak My Terrible Friend Come Saturday Young Adult Friction Even in Dreams
Everything With You The Pains of Being Pure at Heart