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Bumbershoot Review Day 3: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

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Photo: Palva Kopecna.

Across all three days of Bumbershoot 2012, the new Sub Pop stage (curated by the renowned Seattle record label) became the go-to place for great live rock acts. Sure, there were other bands, and other stages – but the Sub Pop Stage was the one venue guaranteed to deliver time and time again, as it hosted acts like Mudhoney, Blitzen Trapper, TacocaT, and many more. When all else failed, there was always Sub Pop.

All of which makes The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart‘s performance late on the final day of the festival a slight disappointment. Sure, they delivered what you might have expected: plenty of distorted guitar noise, some fuzzy, ethereal vocals, and a dreamy vibe that should have been the perfect fit for a summer’s evening. Their set was tight too, and the performance was far more energetic than many would have hoped for. While their two albums are wispy, dreamy pop records, their live set sounded closer to the guitar noise of Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine. Clearly their sound engineers know how to turn it up to eleven.

None of this was quite enough to cover the cracks in their live show, however – and the crowd knew it, as it slowly dissipated song by song. Peggy Wang’s vocals were woefully low in the mix, at times almost inaudible, leaving Kip Berman to hold the tunes alone. While he tried his best, strutting and gyrating like a young Tim Booth, it just wasn’t the TPOBPAH sound we’ve come to expect. The apparent decision to push their live sound closer to guitar rock than shoegazing pop felt ill-advised too, especially on a stage that had already played host to some true, hard-rocking guitar acts. At times you might almost have mistaken them for a TPOBPAH cover band.

Maybe they detected this dissatisfaction on the fringes of the audience, maybe it was always their plan, but the final nail in their set came when it finished twenty minutes early, a mere forty minutes after it had begun. It was a problem that had plagued sets throughout the festival, and you have to wonder whether there had been a communication breakdown somewhere between the event management and the acts. As it was, the crowd drifted away shrugging their shoulders and feeling short-changed. TPOBPAH hadn’t flopped, but neither had they blown us away. For a stage that had already provided some of the festival’s highlights, this felt like nothing more than a lightweight interlude.