Monday 8 December 2008

Vivian Girls, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Old Blue Last 3 December 2008

The signs are that it is going to be a very busy night. The headliners are this week’s hot new darlings from New York and the hype surrounding them has started to spill over from fan boy websites into the mainstream media. Let’s be honest, it’s why I’m here too.

The first act on are Graffiti Island, two bespectacled, tattooed and very intense young men and a girl drummer (of whom more later). While one guy thrashes a guitar, the other declaims in a semi spoken rap. Dark tales and sharp looks ensue. A good start.

By now the venue is heaving and when the provocatively named The Shitty Limits take to the stage there is a commotion down the front. The set starts off conventionally enough – or conventionally enough for an old school punk band whose singer spends the majority of the time in amongst the audience, bent double and screaming. But, marvellously, these confrontational warriors are completely upstaged by the antics of an incredibly drunken girl who clambers onto the stage and cannot be budged.

It’s like watching a car crash. She falls over a lot, she unplugs the instruments, she grabs at microphones and guitars and bawls incoherently. The band continue with their performance amidst this chaos, exhorting her to leave and even physically knocking her off the stage, but this does not deter her one bit – she is indestructible and completely oblivious to everything. The whole spectacle is both deeply sordid and one of the funniest things that I have ever seen at a gig.

Various Vivian Girls are stood on seats behind me, looking both fascinated and horrified. Particularly as a full beer glass is hurled from near the front and whizzes over our heads.

The band finishes and their unwanted guest is later seen crawling around on her hands and knees, before being carted off unconscious. Remember kids – alcohol is your friend, but not a trustworthy one.

We are now entertained by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, an endearingly ramshackle pop band featuring Peggy, the girl who was earlier drumming for Graffiti Island, here on vocals and keys. She is accompanied by bassist Alex and other vocalist Kip, who knows the value of a jangly guitar.

While very affable and generally enjoyable, it is painfully clear why this band have been chosen as principal support on the forthcoming tour by veterans The Wedding Present. They may be American, but their sound is pure 1986 guitar pop – and is just as good or limited as that genre was, depending on your viewpoint. I’m a fan, but to be brutally honest, there are dozens of UK bands who sound like this and they are playing to empty rooms.

Anyway, right here, right now, POBPAH are just what is needed, and calm things down after the tumult of the previous act.

And finally, the room gives it up for Vivian Girls, the three piece from Brooklyn who have become darlings of the hour. At least for this week.

And they are pretty great. Their songs and harmonies also echo back to places such as the Bull and Gate in the mid Eighties, but as the set progresses and they become more relaxed, Cassie Ramone’s guitar work becomes ever faster and more abrasive, until we are in hardcore heaven.

There is nothing mind blowing here, but they generate a warmth of feeling that will carry them a long way. They are very likeable and resultantly, the crowd really takes to them. Kickball Katy shakes her abundant red hair and smiles a lot, Cassie plays like a fury. They are delightful and I’m glad to have seen them, although, as with the last band, there is a slight nagging thought that the greater part of their appeal lies in where their passports were issued.

The girls’ mini album gets a solid airing, together with several new songs that imply that they should be good for at least another twelve months. Let’s enjoy them for the moment.

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