‘We’re not My Bloody Valentine.’
This time of year sucks. Skint but you have to spend, the winter chill kicks in like a bouncer on a 4am scuffle and Simon Cowell‘s monopoly on the charts is temporarily dented by leftfield compilations like Now That’s What I Call Yule Tide Fodder.
So it came as more than a wee surprise when Postman Pat delivered a whopping gift last week in the shape of Nirvana‘s headline set at Reading in 1992.
Rabid, dirty, drenched in scuzz, irascible and genuinely thrilling, the set marked the crossroads were, as Dave Grohl recently alluded to, they knitted together their most intense work to date (In Utero) instead of splitting up and calling the whole thing off.
Just one rehearsal later saw the Seattle trio pull off the now legendary 90 minute set which is as remarkable for it’s ferocity as it is for the sheer wealth of three minute pop classics.
Watching back, one thing immediately stood out – it’s loud. Very, very loud. No matter how restrained (which is rare, yet there are numerous times when Kurt, in cheeky defiance, mumbles his lyrics and scuffs his fretboard) the fuzz is ramped up to 12 and the rhythm keeps on rolling; relentless, like a primal, unstoppable force.
It calls to mind last month’s Arctics show, and makes you realise how easily impressed we are as an audience these days, while also acting as a huge ‘what if?‘ when locked on to that most compelling of creatures Kurt Cobain.
Tonight much of this longwinded preamble is placed in acute perspective. The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are NYC’s alt band of choice and arrive swept along with a critical bluster blowing into their backs.
Only problem is they seem to know it and they wear the ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ badge for all to see – timid, cutesy to the point of needing a slap and rarely looking comfortable in this most intimate of settings.
Sure, all the tracks from their first-rate eponymous debut and recent EP sparkle amid the crackle of fuzz but the band seem intent on burrowing into their jumpers or hiding behind thick mops of hair. Few words are spoken – although tellingly when an audience member shouts ‘turn it up,’ just two songs in Kip Berman shrugs, before meekly responding, ‘We’re not My Bloody Valentine.’
Of course he’s right. But you can’t help but empathise with the heckler, for where Pains work best is ratcheting up their sound so that all that hiss and dissonance bounces of the walls allowing the crisp melodic pop to burst through.
Tonight it’s there, but it’s somewhat flat. Take The Tenure Itch a tune, which on record, hurrumps like a daft labrador, here its bracing quick but so deadened of life that it’s hard to believe it’s the same song, indeed the catchy-as-hell finale sees Peggy Wang-East seemingly miming into her mic such is the lack of clarity. Maybe she was. Or maybe her microphone was switched off.
That’s not to say there are fine moments – Berman’s John Squire-alike solo in This Love Is Fucking Right! has everyone swinging, Young Adult Friction stands out a mile as it’s the first time we can grab a whiff of that kaleidoscopic keyboard Wang-East’s been one-fingering.
There’s a brace of newies which show they’ve ample supplies of the good stuff still to come while Higher Than The Stars is every bit of the Goal of the Month jingle it is on record.
It’s a shame then that the group seem to find their stride during the final third of their show; relaxed and settled there’s an added sheen to counterbalance the fuzz – and it does seem as though someone at the mixing desk finally got the message and has turned the dials up.
But the final assessment rests with Jim. He’s never heard of Pains, let alone had any expectations: ‘Decent that, hardly change the world, but decent, yeah.’
Not sure Kurt would have settled for that.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: Young Adult Friction
* Pictures courtesy of Sakura.