sat 23/03/2019

The Vaccines, Brighton Centre | reviews, news & interviews

The Vaccines, Brighton Centre

The Vaccines, Brighton Centre

London rockers deliver an object lesson in buzzy, contagious guitar pop

Major label "indie", up against the wall

From the second song, “Teenage Icon”, the Brighton Centre crowd are in the palms of Vaccines’ frontman Justin Young’s hands. It’s not a capacity crowd but they sing along to the perfectly crafted indie-pop stomper as if they were. “I’m nobody’s hero,” Young roars, clad in black, wearing his own band’s tee-shirt, but it’s not true, he’s clearly everybody’s hero here. His audience are mostly late teens and early twenties but there’s a hefty smattering of older faces and loads of women. The latter is striking as so often gigs are just hordes of men. The Vaccines clearly have a wider appeal. By the end of “Teenage Icon” people are grasping friends’ shoulders, singing the lyrics passionately into each other’s faces. They love this band.

The Vaccines are all clad in black like their leader, performing beneath a row of giant Chinese lanterns, and supplemented by additional fifth member Tim Lanham on keyboards. The sound is clear and rousing, the lyrics are intelligible, and the songs are inarguably catchy. The fifth number slows things down with “Wetsuit”, an uncharacteristic folk number that has epic qualities and a poignancy encapsulated by the line “We all got old at breakneck speed”.

I pop out to the bar and a man says to me, “They’re no good since they sold out.” I am bemused, “What did they have to sell out from?” He swerves that one and asks, “What do you think of them?” “I think they’re the entire history of 20th Century guitar pop compressed into one band for young people to enjoy,” I reply, and head back out to hear them attacking the 2013 single “Bad Mood” which comes on like a pastiche of The Cramps having it out with Link Wray.

Throughout their set comparisons simply rain down – from Art Brut to Phil Spector to The Ramones to The Kinks to Joy Division to Bowie to The Velvet Underground, and on and on and on. They do it with real panache. Songs such as “Post Break-Up Sex”, which arrives mid-set, are alive with energy. Part of me wonders why a band would never veer sonically beyond the early 1990s but the huge enjoyment they’re delivering pushes such thoughts away. This exact formula, after all, is how Primal Scream spent their first half decade, retro copyists until the accident of fate that was rave culture derailed them into far more fascinating territory.

If there’s one sticking point it would be Justin Young himself. He seems suffused with a certain  arrogance. This isn’t the surliness of angst or punk, not even that insouciant Liam Gallagher rock star thing. When he lazily waves us to clap along, asks the crowd in a bored voice “Are you still with us?” or dryly states “We love you very much”, he simply comes across as up himself, in the manner of early Razorlight-era Johnny Borrell. The crowd, however, don’t mind, and lap him up, giving him license to do as he pleases.

Never mind, though, now “I Always Knew” comes haring into view on galloping drums, a Duane Eddy-meets-Roy Orbison monster that carries me off. Soon the whole place is leaping about as one to the New York punk-style minute-and-a-half long 2010 breakthrough single “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”. By the time they reach the end of their encore with “Nørgaard” from their debut album, it would be a churlish soul who wasn’t a little persuaded by The Vaccines. Whatever quibbles they raised, they won this non-fan over to a chunk of their music, which is surely the name of the game.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Minimal Affection"

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