San Francisco – The streets of the Bay Area have been turned into veritable rivers over the course of the last few days as El Niño sent its latest barrage of rain into the region over the past several days, satiating the parched California earth with much needed moisture. Saturday saw some of the heaviest precipitation I have ever seen fall here, in my two short years as a resident, which made the arrival of Portland’s Pure Bathing Culture somewhat serendipitous, as the band’s most recent LP, released last year, is entitled Pray For Rain. If the past week or so is any evidence, it seems prayers have been answered.
It’s been just under a year since the Starline Social Club, uptown Oakland’s newest venue, opened its doors. Up the stairs from the restaurant and bar that take up the first floor of the club is an open performance space (which holds up to 400 people), boasting high ceilings and minimalist décor that is reminiscent of the kind of loft spaces I would often visit while living in Brooklyn. The Starline’s space is much more polished, and the stage nestled into the corner of the club – albeit small – was positioned in a way that the performers were easily visible from every angle. The place is intimate; there’s no backstage or anything, and the band members have to walk through the crowd as they enter and exit the stage, making the whole experience feel more familiar than other shows.
Pure Bathing Culture is a band that makes indie pop songs that are also intimate and familiar. The two key members – vocalist Sarah Versprille and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hindman – have been releasing music as Pure Bathing Culture since 2012 with their eponymous EP, followed up in 2013 with PBC’s first full-length Moon Tides. Last year saw Pure Bathing Culture’s sophomore release of Pray For Rain, which the band is currently touring in support of, making the first stop of the North American tour at the Starline Social Club.
After a stimulating set by their touring mates – fellow Portlanders Pillar Point (making their live debut) – Pure Bathing Culture walked onstage. Hindman, along with PBC’s touring drummer and bassist, dressed all in black, making for a perfect contrast to the free white linen dress Versprille was wearing, which served as a billowing canvas for the shifting colors that beamed from the projector aimed at the performers. They opened with Moon Tide track “Dream The Dare,” which combed through the air from the stage like a wave of warm Caribbean seawater. The Pray For Rain songs that dominated the evening were equally warm, sonically soothing the achy bones of the moderately sized rain-soaked crowd. The glowing, frothy “Clover” kicked off the newer material, Versprille’s vocals bobbing over the rippling chords emanating from Hindman’s guitar amps.
After “Clover” came “The Tower,” Pray For Rain’s slinking opener, marked with chilled out percussion and spacey guitar that sounds like Nile Rodgers on Valium. Following a couple more older songs – Moon Tides’ hit track “Pendulum” and the pensive “Seven 2 One” – PBC gracefully addressed several more Pray For Rain highlights, including subtler songs like “I Trace Your Symbol” and album closer “In The Night, In The Peaceful Night,” as well as more upbeat tracks like the folky “She Shakes,” title track and lead single “Pray For Rain,” and my personal favorite, “Palest Pearl.” Pure Bathing Culture closed the set with a duo of classics: “Scotty” (which borrows from 1980’s “Into the Night” by Benny Mardones) from Moon Tides, and the heartfelt “Ivory Coast” from the band’s self-titled EP, which served as their unofficial encore, pleasing the longtime Pure Bathing Culture devotees in attendance, especially the one guy who kept yelling the song titles after each and every song the band played.
Throughout the set Sarah Versprille gushed gratitude towards those who made it through the deluge to come see the band’s humble indie pop act that night, and we responded with much-deserved enthusiasm. Perhaps the greatest applause came as the band announced that this was its first time playing in Oakland, but wouldn’t be the last, as PBC would surely be returning. Oakland residents – both new and old alike – exhibit pride in their city, and so it is always heartening to hear that the bands that come play for us are excited to be here.
Pure Bathing Culture has since moved on to other cities, and it seems the band has taken the rain with it, as the sun has decided to show its face here for the first time in what seems like months. I’m not sure if the band will be bringing any much-needed rain to any of PBC’s future destinations, but the sweet melodies and the honey-like timbre of Versprille’s voice are sure to bring comfort and pleasure to many along the way.