Sweet! The Pains Of Being Pure Of Heart At Rickshaw Stop
How do you explain the Pains of Being Pure at Heart? Is it a case of a great name that speaks to every geek and freak with earnest thoughts in their heads and deeply cherished hopes in their breasts, fearful of having that fragile idealism crushed and spindled? Or does POBPAH signal a backlash against indie chaos and a return to pop conservatism -- a revival of the easy, the tried and true, and the innocent?
I’d venture that the band heralds a resurgence of a breed of twee pop that first sprang to fore in the ‘90s with sweet songwriters in Scotland like Belle and Sebastian and melody peddlers in America like the Bay Area’s Aislers Set, all of whom were emboldened by shy, Rickenbacker-ready Anglo rockers like the Smiths and Orange Juice. Twee never quite went away -- it just went dormant, emerging with the sugary side of literate indie rockers like Portland, Ore.’s Decemberists, in the melodic vein of psychedelic pop acolytes ala SF’s Papercuts, and amid the Bacharach and Brill Building love as with Glasgow, Scotland’s Camera Obscura.
Twee draws on many subtle shades of pop -- though the seductive hooks of the ‘60s girl groups dominate -- but the Pains of Being Pure at Heart hark back to more recent forebears: the sweet ‘n’ sour songcraft of Morrissey and the boys. Imagine ‘60s pop as filtered through ‘80s post-punk then ‘00s post-hardcore.
The New York City combo laces the sugary 12-string jangle and vibe-y bells with a thick swathe of distortion reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain on its self-titled debut on the East Bay’s Slumberland Records. Still, POBPAH never lets the noise detract from Kip Berman’s blissed-out, choir-boy croon. The band could be speaking directly to the Pure of Heart from the very start, with **The Pains of Being Pure at Heart**’s opening track, “Contender,” a paean to all those artsy woulda-been-shoulda-beens who heaven knows are miserable now: “At the back of a crowded scene / You saw the boys in white sing / ‘I’m a pretender’ / But you never were a contender,” warbles Berman like a regretful angel. “I heard your same old tune, singing city sins / Like you were the first one / Gave up books for film, gave up film for time / Now that you’ve got none.”
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Berman, Kurt Feldman, Alex Naidus, and Peggy Wang may sound as sweet as pie, but they’re no innocents, even as they unleash a hook that could have been cribbed from the Culture Club, on “A Teenager in Love.” “You don’t have to dress to please /Perhaps undress for me / I know that when you come we’ll be staying in,” is the sentiment on the grind ‘n’ jump “Come Saturday,” while a stalking ex hidden in the library stacks is given the heave-ho on the ebullient, carousel-organ-electrified “Young Adult Friction”: “You’re taking toffee with your Vicodin / Something sweet to forget about him / If you go your own way I will go my own way / And we’ll never speak of it again,” Berman sings almost delicately, before barking decisively, “Don’t check me out! Don’t check me out!” Empathy apparently has its limits, and fortunately for Berman and the rest of POBPAH, the world is busy checking out the kids who feel the pain of those pure of heart -- and the pleasure of ‘60s-inspired twee pop.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart performs Tuesday, July 21, 7:30 p.m., at Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. Girls and Champagne Socialists open. $12. (415) 861-2011. www.rickshawstop.com