Sunday, 4 December 2011

835 THE VACCINES, Frankie And The Heartstrings, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 2 December 2011

In the almost complete absence of any promising new band discoveries this year (Okkervil River and Male Bonding notwithstanding, but OR have been around for donkey’s years, and MB bassist Kevin Hendricks had previous with Seafood, so I’m not sure how “new” they actually count as…), NME press darlings and this week’s “Best Band In The World” (according to said venerable rag) The Vaccines are probably the best “brand new” band I’ve come across in 2011. And yes, I know I’m damning them with faint praise… Nevertheless, their spunky, surf guitar overload take on jangly C86 ramshackle upbeat pop has had Rach tapping her toes, and me warmly reaching for early Soup Dragons/ Razorcuts comparisons. We sorted tix for this one, which sold out in double quick hype-propelled time, and I for one approached it with curious trepidation; do we have a band here, or is this yet another young group suddenly hyped to the eyeballs, and, unable to sustain it, destined to fall from grace almost as quick?

Bristol Friday night Christmas shopping, plus an early curfew, necessitated an early departure at 6.20, but the Cabot Circus traffic didn’t delay us as much as feared. So we parked up and hit the venue, already rammed to the gills with teenage indie kids, but also an odd smattering of greying old lags such as myself, at 7.30, as support Frankie And The Heartstrings came on. Led by a charismatic young singer (presumably Frankie), they played some nice innocent strumalong pop with an 80’s ramshackle bent a la early Orange Juice, had one good atmospheric newie recalling British Sea Power, then spoilt a good impression with a clumsy ska number to finish. Hmmm.

Took our usual spot on the stuffed floor, stage left, and enjoyed some good pre-gig music (Neutral Milk Hotel! “Born To Run”! “Teenage Kicks”!) before The Vaccines came on to The Ramones “Rock And Roll Radio” which made me kindly disposed to them from the start, and after an oddly dour opener, they hit the “amphetamine fast surf guitar rush” button with “Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”, and the crowd – including Rachel! - went utterly batshit crazy.

Now, if I was a 16 year old indie kid and had never heard of the likes of The Ramones, Buzzcocks, Velvet Underground, Birdland or even Buddy Holly (!), then I’d likely think The Vaccines were the greatest thing I’d ever heard. Luckily for them, that description probably accounts for the vast majority of their demographic, and certainly of the crowd tonight. However I have, so at times their material comes across like 4 kids gleefully rummaging through their parents’ record collection. “Wetsuit” was very 50’s, Buddy Holly-esque, and newie “Teenage Icon” recalled SLF’s “Nobody’s Hero”, at least in subject matter. Overall it’s all simple, almost primitive stuff, and so far, for me they’re not adding much of their own to the mix. Nevertheless, this matters very little to this audience, who greeted every note with frenzied devotion verging on mania, and contributed massively to a thrilling and exciting atmosphere. What The Vaccines do do extremely well is fuel this atmosphere with an equally thrilling, dynamic and exhiliarating performance, led by chief rabble rouser Justin Young, possessor of a voice I’m not sure I like “live”, a cross between a Lou Reed street sneer and a slurring bellow, but who channelled the energy well, lapping up the crowd adulation. A short, snappy 45 minute set plus encores was highlighted by a Ramones-like and rather splendid actually “If You Wanna”, before which Justin challenged us to, “show us how you do it in Bristol,” and the crowd responded in kind.

So, overall a by no means original, but a thrilling and totally enjoyable gig. Long term, the jury’s out for me, but they’re walking the walk right now and bringing simple, classic and fun rock to a new generation. And who should be in the scrum for the car park tickets in Trenchard outside afterwards; none other than England football legend and “old punk rocker” Stuart Pearce! I couldn’t resist patting him on the shoulder and asking, “did you enjoy that then, Sir?” to which I got the instant riposte, “whadda you fink?” Fantastic – who am I to argue with Psycho?

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