all words: William Alberque
all photos: Sandra Sanchez
This crowd is young. Seriously, this crowd is really, really young. I think I tripped over an umbilical cord on my way to get a drink. And they’re not here for the opener. I heard the Vaccines were coming to DC months ago. I didn’t even think to check what the headliner was. I should have. I didn’t. I paid the price.
The Vaccines are an intriguing new band. I heard their first song, “Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” in August 2010. It was love from first listen – I had to get it as soon as it came out on 7”. The opening guitar and drums are cribbed straight from TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” and from there it launches into just over a minute of sing-along Buzzcocks adrenaline. The lyrics are…well…sort of meaningless, name checking F. Scott Fitzgerald, French lyrics, a girl, a boy – but so deliriously fun, who cares? They save the song until third from last, and it’s a smart move. I have no idea how I would have felt if I had heard it sooner in the set. As it is, the ten-song set is incredibly fun, but blissfully short, clocking in at just less than 30 minutes.
Unlike the Vaccines debut, the rest of their set sounds far more mid-80s English indie rock – think the Waterboys, the Undertones, maybe early James. The second single, “Post Break-Up Sex,” is far more typical of their sound. Mid-tempo, slightly anthemic, but thoughtful and smart. Not all their songs have lyrics that sound terribly smart – this isn’t the Smiths – and the album title, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? invokes the Arctic Monkeys (“Who the Fuck Are the Arctic Monkeys?”). But one album in, they are leaps and bounds beyond the headliner in song craft.
The mix is interesting – the vocals are VERY prominent, with each of the four members miked up and the instruments surprisingly muted. Singer Justin Young makes a point introducing “Wetsuit” that seems a bit odd – “we’re from London. In England,” really, thanks – but the songs are note-perfect from the album. Almost too perfect. Six songs in, Young puts down his guitar, and for the first time, they come to life. “If You Wanna,” which follows, is bouncy and engaging, and “Wreckin’ Bar” has the audience bouncing.
There’s a bit of a head-scratching moment when Young announces their next song, a cover: “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” by the Standells. Minor Threat covered it, and they’re one of the Vaccines’ favorite bands – okay, but there’s, what, five people including the band that can draw that connection? It’s good, and I admire the effort, but I feel like they shouldn’t have forced the point – it didn’t help. Perhaps that’s part of the problem – they just try a bit too hard. They end with Norgaard, and I try to ignore the really, painful lyrics on this one (Google ‘em).
In England, the backlash against the Vaccines started before their debut album hit the shelves, with accusations that the band didn’t come from poverty (can we talk about the lingering English obsession with class – especially reverse class snobbery?) and that they might not be brilliant in interviews (would you rather talk to Brother?). Even the NME, in defending them, took the ridiculous point of view of comparing them to the Strokes. Why? Do they think that, like the Strokes, the Vaccines will never equal their badly-recorded demo? Fucking journalists.
Still, the Vaccines are a damn sight better than the Arctic Monkeys. I still remember when I first downloaded the AM’s demo. The hype was big, but so what – if the songs were there, I’d be fine with that. But I didn’t like it, and I passed on their self-produced debut single. At the time, I kicked myself – that was a quick flip that could have made me 50, 60 bucks, easy. But I’m not in the habit of buying records I don’t like just to upsell them. All in all, I’m glad I didn’t.
Still, I like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s ridiculous. The lyrics are ace, the tune is huge, and it’s over before it wears out its welcome. The polar opposite, then, of the Arctic Monkeys live set. That single’s bside, “Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts,” by some coincidence, is a dead ringer for the best Strokes song – “Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men,” (without, to be clear, the magnificent vocals of Regina Spektor) – but it didn’t make the bloated, 20-song set.
Instead, the Arctic Monkey’s best-known song makes its appearance 10 songs in to the set, providing a welcome respite from the later-era set – here; I’ll just post that to get it out of the damn way:
- She’s Thunderstorms
- This House Is a Circus
- Still Take You Home
- Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
- Pretty Visitors
- Teddy Picker
- Crying Lightning
- Library Pictures
- I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor
- Potion Approaching
- Brick by Brick
- If You Were There, Beware
- Do Me a Favour
- That’s Where You’re Wrong
- The View from the Afternoon
- Reckless Serenade
- When the Sun Goes Down
- Fluorescent Adolescent
Hm. It’s missing so many of their most interesting songs (“A Certain Romance”? “Fake Tales of San Francisco”?) that I’m a bit confused. I mean, I am reaching for positive things to say here. The band is clearly talented. They really know how to construct a song. Their mastery of ‘90s US pop-punk is remarkable. Seriously, they sound like a very, very accomplished frat-band from 1995. I do believe that lead singer Alex Turner is remarkable for his winning delivery. But he’s wearing his own tour shirt. For chrissakes. Is that a Morrissey shirt on the drummer? Oh, what’s the point?
The between-band djing is stellar – the Bunnymen, Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order – and, befitting a band that sold its soul on a street corner as soon as they could, they cut that off to play 30 seconds of a Public Enemy track before they take the stage. Why? What are they trying to prove??
“Brainstorm” stands out early in the set as a very good song in the midst of some real drek. I would love to invoice for my time listening to “This House Is a Circus,” and “Still Take You Home.” The latter is a two-parter, each more boring than the last. Seven or eight songs in, I’m convinced they’re trying to be an American band – a bit swampy, like the White Stripes without the pop hooks and magnetism. “Potion Approaching” sounds as manufactured as anything you’d hear on the sound system in the mall (probably because I have, despite not being in a mall in five years).
The end of the set proper has me so bored, I want to leave. The encore undoubtedly would have made it worth the wait, but I just had to go. I’m kicking myself, because I feel like the songs from the encore were good enough – just – to make the whole experience worth it. But I didn’t. I failed. I’m sure you liked it more than me. Go ahead; tell me why that show was good? I missed it. Clearly.