The Pains of Being Pure at Heart kicked things off at Thursday night’s show at Union Transfer. As openers, it’s their job to get the crowd pumped for the headlining act. And they definitely fulfilled that responsibility. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been around for a while now. Or at least Kip Berman has. Following their 2011 release, Belong, several members of the band departed, leaving just lead singer Kip Berman and drummer Kurt Feldman.
On their newest album, Abandon, Berman and Feldman recruited Beirut’s Kelly Pratt and A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Jen Goma to help get the sound they were looking for. But the band we saw on stage Thursday night was much different from that and any former iterations we may have seen. And in some ways, their relative newness as a band was evident. With several members of the band lined up in front, it takes one a moment to pinpoint Kip Berman amongst the others. But that was short-lived, as the frontman certainly has a way of captivating the crowd with his infectious stage presence. You can just tell there’s no where else he’d rather be than right there performing for you.
And so it was that he was able to win over the crowd as they watched his newly formed Pains of Being perform songs both new and old. The crowd seemed attentive and interested, and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart definitely proved themselves worthy of that opening slot. They played to a packed room as many clearly decided to show up early for the night’s performances. In past shows at UT, one could easily notice a more staggered arrival from fans. But on Thursday, it seemed as though every one of the sold out attendees were present and eager to enjoy a great night of music here in Philly.
But of course, it was The New Pornographers who had gotten everyone to leave their nice warm houses on this cold, cold Philly night. Touring in support of their newest album, Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers aimed to prove that they have definitely still got it. Brill Bruisers was released in August of this year, which gave fans plenty of time to listen to the album, and choose their favorites. And it’s safe to say that people were not disappointed in the setlist on Thursday night. With a flawlessly perfected setlist of songs both new and old, The New Pornographers had a little something for everyone.
They kicked things off with the title track off of that new album, “Brill Bruisers” and then headed right into “Myriad Harbor” from 2007’s Challengers. This song features lead vocals from Dan Bejar, who would make sporadic appearances throughout the show. It was slightly distracting, to have the singer come and go after every other song, but it also left a little something to look forward to. The only complaint in having AC Newman and Dan Bejar share the stage in that way, was that it made it seem as though Bejar were a guest vocalist as apposed to a certifiable member of the band. In fact, he didn’t make a single appearance in either of the band’s encores.
All in all, The New Pornographers managed to squeeze 26 songs into their set. A set, which seemed to go on forever (in a good way). But actually, their performance didn’t go on for longer than any other shows at Union Transfer. So how was it that they were able to perform so many songs? The answer to that can be summed up in a comment from lead singer, Carl (AC) Newman, who after performing song after song finally stopped to address the crowd saying, “We’re so focused on rocking. You know when you get in the zone? And you don’t want to talk to anyone. That’s us right now.”
And that was totally okay with the crowd because everyone was there for the music. And the small talk proved to be really unnecessary as everyone was obviously eager to hear as many of their favorites as possible. And with a collection of music that spans as long as that of The New Pornographers, there are an awful lot of favorites. But, impressively, The New Pornographers managed to pull off the ultimate setlist. They alternated between songs from their older albums, interspersed with songs off of 2014’s Brill Bruisers. This is a group of immensely talented musicians who work extremely well together. Their harmonies were absolutely on point, no more so than in the last two songs of the set, “Born With a Sound” and “Mass Romantic.”
Each member of the band had their time to shine, and it was Neko Case’s moment on “You Tell Me Where,” one of their newer tracks, which honestly hadn’t stood out to me that much in early listenings of the record. But when she performed her solo vocals, the song was truly transformed in a beautiful way. And that was true of all of their songs. One after another, The New Pornographers performed the night away, finishing things off with “Mass Romantic,” one of their earliest tunes.
But obviously, the crowd still hungered for me. Encouraging the band out for (clearly planned) encores. Yes, encores plural. Because for The New Pornographers and their vast catalog of music, one encore would just not do. The first encore gave the crowd “Challengers,” “Dancehall Domine” and “The Bleeding Heart Show.” And then their second encore wrapped things up with two longtime favorites from their earlier albums, “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” and “The Slow Decent into Alcoholism.” Their years of experience were evident in their masterfully performed set, that was golden from start to finish, to finish, to finish.
1. Brill Bruisers
2. Myriad Harbor
3. Use It
5. War on the East Coast
6. The Bones of an Idol
7. All the Old Showstoppers
8. Jackie, Dressed in Cobras
9. Another Drug Deal of the Heart
10. The Laws Have Changed
11. You Tell Me Where
12. Testament to Youth in Verse
13. Marching Orders
14. Adventures in Solitude
16. Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk
18. Silver Jenny Dollar
19. Champions of Red Wine
20. Born With a Sound
21. Mass Romantic
23. Dancehall Domine
24. The Bleeding Heart Show
25. Sing Me Spanish Techno
26. The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism