Concert Review: Craft Spells, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, August 2, Opera House

If there’s one thing you can say about New York’s Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it’s that they certainly know how to choose an opening act. When we first met them in April 2009, I was dazzled by their openers Zaza (drummer Kurt Feldman was still pulling double duty for both bands at this point). Two years later, POBPAH have steadily and predictably climbed the Toronto live venue hierarchy:

Freshman: Lee’s Palace
Sophomore: Horseshoe Tavern
Junior: Opera House, Mod Club, or Phoenix
Senior: Massey Hall, at which point you are probably not considered an “indie” band anymore unless you’re an opener

In the midst of the touring, POBPAH have remained affable and keen to stay in scope with their March release Belong–something of a semi-departure from their self-titled debut. A sound that our friend at IKVDK refers to as the de facto “Smashing Pumpkins” factor (it’s certainly noisier, graduating from tinges of the Ramones to tinges of…dare I say it…skate rock). I”m not sure I agree with that, but admit that Belong didn’t capture me for nearly as long as their first release did.

That said, I think Belong plays better as a live album because it’s seemingly less-dependent on saccharine vocals and pulls from frontman Kip Berman’s development as a guitarist. Out of all of the band members, I’d say he’s blossomed the most as a performer in spite of sometimes inconsistent vocals. Bassist Alex Naidus often reminded me of the twitchy Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory and Peggy Wang’s wavering voice seemed too quiet at times. However…and this is a big however, they are still only a couple of years old and at least have the good sense to initiate some audience banter, having mastered the art of settling a room with charm and graciousness.

As for Seattle-based Craft Spells, I missed about half of their short 7-song set, but am sure just about everyone can concede that these kids are something special. First of all, they look like they’re still in high school. Second of all, from what I heard of Idle Labor (one of Josh’s favorite releases of the year with an album cover strangely reminiscent of New Order’s Power, Corruption, and Lies), what they were showcasing has what I call the “sparkle sheen nostalgia” quality to it. It’s the kind of release that wraps you in sickly-sweet memories from the 1980’s–probably the most comfort anyone can feel outside a womb for most people in my age group–there’s dimension there that feels familiar while discouraging comparison if that makes any sense. It doesn’t hurt that Justin Vallestero’s voice is reliant on scrapes and bumps rather than prone to them. These guys are kind of like a rich man’s Mary Onettes‘ with depth and breadth, and I suggest checking them out. It’s likely they’ll be eclipsing as headliners soon. I guess I’m becoming as fickle as those teenagers I bash after all.

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