One of the things that make the Pains of Being Pure at Heart so irresistible is how worried they are that you aren’t going to like them. This could be cloying, but in their case, it’s totally endearing. They have no pose in them at all. When they played a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom this spring, front man Kip Berman—dressed neatly in a shiny Members Only–style jacket zipped up over a crisp button-down—shyly told the audience, “This is our first time playing the Bowery. I thought it was going to be really intimidating and horrible, but it’s not that horrible. It’s kind of fun.”
Forty-five minutes of bittersweet, guitar-driven pop later, keyboardist Peggy Wang was backstage and all jittery, high on postshow adrenaline. The giant bow she wears in her silky black hair shook with every gesticulation, as she gushed about how the show was so fun and so crazy and the band is leaving for Europe in the morning and she probably should be packing but the show was just so much fun. “I was worried they’d be like, ‘Bring it,’ ” she said of the notoriously difficult-to-please New York crowd. “But it was great! Can we do shots now?” Everyone laughed.
“No, seriously,” she said, her eyes wide. “When can we do shots?”
The Pains started in Brooklyn in March 2007, when, instead of buying Wang a nice bodega bouquet, her three good friends—Berman, bassist Alex Naidus, and drummer Kurt Feldman—decided to celebrate her 27th birthday by forming a band. Several months later, they self-released an EP, then the wistful, jangly single “Young Adult Friction” was used on Urban Outfitters’ website. Soon Carson Daly was asking them to play his show, and their South by Southwest performances had bloggers and rock critics rhapsodizing about the band’s nerdy, unpretentious charm. Last summer, they holed up in Brooklyn’s Honeyland Studio and recorded their self-titled debut. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart is a taut ten-song collection that recalls both the willful naïveté of bands like the Pastels and the Wedding Present that appeared on C86 (a legendary compilation put out by NME in 1986) and the dense, swirling pop of early-nineties bands like Velocity Girl and Lush.
In true punk spirit, virtuosity is not part of the mix. “We became a band not because we knew how to play,” Berman said, “but because we liked hanging out together. You can always learn to play later.” The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are building a career by finding joy in uncertainty. Though their music revives styles from almost two decades ago, there is nothing the slightest bit backward looking about them. Their songs are immersive and intimate, a celebration of the right now. And in that sense this is a band perfectly suited to the city in recession.
At the band’s Bowery show, the crowd was filled with the usual rock scene-makers, fewer of whom had to get up for work than might have had to a year ago. An hour after the show ended, the downstairs bar was packed; many of the lingering fans seemed willing to stay for one more cocktail, just to see what might happen next. Between conversations Berman stepped outside the moment long enough to put it in context. “This was a really big night for us,” he acknowledged, then made a reference you pretty much have to be in your twenties to get. “I feel like Jerrica, where she puts on the star earrings and transforms into Jem and the Holograms. Then she’s rocking the world.”