with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Hooray For Earth, The Band in Heaven
Firestone Live, Orlando, Fl • June 11, 2010
Some bands are just better heard than seen. The reasons vary – stupid facial expressions, lack of animation onstage, silly outfits, or even sillier makeup – but the result is the same: an unsatisfying concert going experience. Both Surfer Blood and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, as it turned out, are two such bands – at least on this particular hot summer night.
After The Band in Heaven, a last-minute addition to the lineup whose set included a Cranberries cover with male vocals (that wasn’t half bad), Boston’s unsuitably named Hooray For Earth turned the mood down to just north of mopey for a well played round of nostalgic indie pop. A pair of drummers laid a hypnotic jungle beat beneath otherwise mundane synth-pop (of the New Order, or Erasure sort) melodies, but it was the warm and welcoming vocals of Noel Heroux that drove the concept home. Though neither he, nor the rest of the band, seemed able to remove the glue from the bottoms of their shoes, Heroux’s voice filled the not-very-crowded Firestone Live with the sort of arm hair-tickling vibe that saves boring live bands like this from fading into background music. They’ve got a damn fine new EP that they’re pushing, Momo, and the songs off it blossom on the big speakers… now if they could just do something about that band name.
In an unexpected shifting of headliner hierarchy, the previously-promoted-as-headlining act The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (let’s just call them TPOBPAH, shall we?) sneaked into a supporting role, thanks to the localized success of West Palm Beach’s Surfer Blood. It was a surprise to everyone when the NYC band popped up onstage next, and it was as then yet undetermined as to whether or not they deserved the bump from top billing.
TPOBPAH writes gorgeous and likable fuzz-filled lush pop music, tapping the same well that ’80s college station staples like Jesus & Mary Chain and The Sundays drank from. It can be enjoyed as atmosphere while playing some late night Scrabble, as driving music to keep your inner peace while stuck on a clogged interstate, or cranked up loud to energize a morning workout. Played on a stage, with the added somewhat geeky inside-joke chit chat between vocalist/guitarist Kip Berman and keyboard/background vocalist Peggy Wang, it teetered between boredom-inducing and exhilarating. When they played their most infectious melodies, “Young Adult Fiction” and “A Teenager In Love” to name a strong pair, the fact that they didn’t quite visually fit the band in my imagination could be forgotten and they transcended to a plane of visceral enjoyment.
The band was joined, early on, by Surfer Blood’s JP Pitts (vocals/guitar) on the tambourine. His awkward presence – not too mention his beret and baggy cut-off jeans – was a precursor of things to come, but at least at this point in the night he hadn’t yet painted whiskers and a black nose on his face. No, that little bit of mood-killer he saved for his band’s headlining performance.
Surfer Blood’s debut release, Astro Coast, remains in my personal Top 10 for 2010 thus far, and we’re already half way through the year! It is virtually perfect from beginning to end – a transportative collection of songs that mix the best parts of surf, alternative, and pop rock in a way that few bands even seem motivated enough to even attempt. Imagine, an album with no skippable tracks! How RARE that is these days, but Astro Coast is just that. They even dare to play the same song twice in consecutive order, once at a 3-minute dance pace (“Fast Jabroni”) and then as a 6-minute slow walk with reverb vocals (“Slow Jabroni”). Ambitious for any band, let alone a brand new one run by kids barely able to drink!
This is the emotional investment to the music I came into the concert bearing, which is why Pitts’ ridiculous face paint (Was he supposed to be a mouse? A cat? Was it a dare?) and oddly flamboyant prancing about stage manner was so disappointing. When I saw this band play just a few months back (with Monotonix) Pitts was all business – practically bursting a tendon in his neck to pour every ounce of deep seated intent into each and every lyric. The band came off as a group of geeks, sure, but geeks whose musical talent and taste gave them an edge – like Buddy Holly and The Crickets, or The Beach Boys.
Could this be the same band? Where was the passion that could do songs like “Swim” or “Catholic Pagans” justice? The sound was fine, the vocals were on key, if lacking in that extra special umph, yet didn’t come anywhere close to invoking the sort of ambiance that they do on record. After the rambunctious set they gave the last time I saw them play, this was just heartbreaking.
An odd cover of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy,” led by TPOBPAH’s Wang and Berman who joined them onstage, further confused the success of the evening’s show. If a song is enjoyable on my stereo, but not when a band is playing on a stage in front of you, does that mean the song is not strong enough to translate into a live setting, or is the band to blame? These were the thoughts rolling through my head as I exited the building… that, and “I should have gone to the Screeching Weasel show at the Hard Rock Live instead.”