“I never realised how young you were…” – Bob Dylan


I was offered the chance to interview The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ahead of this show, but on first listen, I was totally underwhelmed with them.  This album is just derivative, I thought.   It’s just early My Bloody Valentine (‘Come Saturday’), for God’s sake.  With a dash of The Smiths (‘The Tenure Itch’).  And The Cure (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’).  Oh and there’s that one that sounds a lot like ‘Vapour Trail’ by Ride (‘Stay Alive’).

The songs were catchy, there was no denying that.  It’s just that the band were so nakedly in thrall to their eighties British indie influences.  It’s cynical, I decided.  These must be ageing, jaded New Yorkers trying to make money out of nostalgia.

They’ll get nothing from me, I decided, with a huff and a crossing of my arms.

Then a friend persuaded me it would be interesting to speak to them, seeing as they are one of the more hyped bands to come out of NYC this year.  I gritted my teeth and started to come up with some questions.

Here are the first three that came to mind:-

  1. Is it easy to get away with ripping off ’80s UK indie in the States?
  2. Are you surprised at the success of your new album, given that it is so derivative?
  3. Will your next record be less derivative?

I decided not to go ahead with the interview.

A couple of weeks passed and once I’d quite finished with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, I felt an unexpected urge to go back to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.  Those jangling hooks had barbs.  That winsome, pure pop instinct wouldn’t leave me alone.   To my shock and surprise, when I put the album on again, I realised that over the past couple of weeks, without realising it or particularly listening to them, I had totally accepted them for what they were.  I started to like them.

I awarded the song ‘Young Adult Friction’ five stars on my iTunes rating.  But by this time, it was too late to sort out the interview.

The day of the Irish Club show came around. I was playing a set myself, in the snug room downstairs, before the Pains went on upstairs.  So I did my gig, then grabbed a couple of beers and went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

First of all, God, it was hot up there…  So many bodies, so little ventilation.  Sweat was pouring from everywhere before the headliners had even taken the stage.

Then, up they popped… and boy, did I feel like an idiot straight away.  They’re so young…

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

Bassist Alex Naidus’ killer Malcolm X glasses can’t disguise the fact that he can’t be a day over 23.  Keyboardist Peggy Wang is a classic indie poppet.  The second guitarist is so patently into it that his demeanour quite disarms you.  Singer Kip Berman is smiling fit to burst as soon as they burst into ‘Come Saturday’ and the crowd instantly goes for it.

By the time they get to ‘Young Adult Friction’, there is a bona fide moshpit and Berman just gazes across his crowd, with genuine delight in his eyes.  He is touched, you can see it. Wang half tries to retreat behind her hair, bashful, as the front few rows sing her vocal parts for her, but she can’t hide her smile.

They didn’t expect this; they are in no way blasé about the pleasure they have given to these strangers from the island that sired their music.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have touched a nerve.  Their unashamedly nostalgic music is (fucking) right for this crowd, right for this room.  It’s just like it must have been the first time around – the romantic introverts, bedroom poets and literate loners are brought back together by sugar-edged guitars, untutored boy-girl harmonies and dreamy, shimmery clouds of languor.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s nothing new.  People don’t care that it’s all happened before.  It doesn’t even matter that these American kids are bringing our own musical heritage back to us.  This crowd do not care who the band are, where they’re from, what year it is, or who they’ve ripped off.  They just like the songs.

The moshpit swells as more and more adults (some young, some not so young) are convinced to dive in and accept The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I fight my way out of the hall, walk into the gents’ and look at myself in the mirror.  My shirt is doused in beer and sweat.   They’ve just played ‘Stay Alive’ and Berman has dedicated it to Manchester, ‘because we stole your drumbeat.’  Well, that one came from Oxford, actually, I thought to myself.

It doesn’t really matter.

the pains of being pure at heart