The energy at The Spaceland was palpable last night for the West Coast debut of the next great U.K. guitar band, The Vaccines. However, there were two L.A. Bands opening for them, upon whom I must touch before turning my attention to the main draw.
Bixby Knolls play heavy, conscious guitar pop. They seem to have a faithful coterie of followers who were quite familiar with their songs. Their lead singer plays with a confident nonchalance while emotionally interacting with the crowd through the music, a prerequisite for any successful frontman. Their sound is of the UK rock tradition, a mélange of The Clash, The La’s and Echo and the Bunnymen. While they might not reinvent the wheel, there’s definitely a good bit of traction on their musical tires!
After a brief intermission of less than twenty minutes, Sweaters took the stage. I would technically call them a four piece, although there was a fifth member who participated on most of the songs, mostly banging away at the tambourine and sprinkling in some Saxophone at times. The lead singer plays the keys, with the bassist doing a strong back-up vocal, along with a guitarist and drummer. They have a raucousness which is representative of the best Rock. They’re unconcerned with derivation or with being sandwiched into the subgenre of the month. My main gripe is that the singer lacked the stage presence of the Bixby Knolls frontman.
Sweaters have fun on stage. A lot of fun on stage. This cannot be stressed enough. In an ‘indie’ scene which came to be defined in the 2000’s by the minor key, it’s so refreshing to hear joyous pop/rock music in whatever incarnation that may be. They also have a comfort with the technical aspects of playing which leads me to believe that more than one member has a background in Classical Music.
Sonically, they’re all over the place, which I think is a good thing in this instance. Their singer sounds a little too much like David Byrne, but hey, who doesn’t these days? They’ve got everything from Todd Rungren to Warren Zevon to The Modern Lovers to The Doobie Brothers lumped within their sound. Essentially, the keyboard, which was turned WAY UP, sets a foundation for their sound in the popular 1970’s vein. This homage, this sense of nostalgia, is probably their greatest strength and their most glaring weakness, as I can’t quite say that they’ve amalgamated their sounds into one cohesive style all their own. Will they be representative of Matisse before or after 1905? Youth is wasted on the young, and also on the next great band, which is why a band like The Vaccines coming together makes for such a magical, ineffable experience.
At least one A-list celeb (A-minus in the eyes of some) was in the audience last night! It wouldn’t be a sold out show in Los Angeles without at least one familiar face. Creativity breeds creativity. The intellectually curious artist will make it a point to search out the cutting edge across various modes of expression.
Nobody moved as Sweaters left the stage. None of that usual dispersal toward bathrooms, bar-counters and cigarettes. The anticipation continued to build as the mics were tested. It was clear to me that this wasn’t a concert in Kansas City or (dare I say) my hometown of Cleveland. The jaded L.A. crowd has seen, heard, and done everything — their expectations were through the roof for a show with unrelenting consistency. The audience was littered with stoic Industry faces, betting the under on the length of The Vaccines’ set, which the bookmakers had probably pegged at 27 minutes!
The Vaccines take the stage around 11:05. Confident with the sound levels, they blast immediately into their first hit, ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’. Lead singer Justin Young, stripped of guitar on the 85 second cut, commands the stage, both playful and serious, toeing the line which separates gimmickry from insouciance. He dons his guitar for the second song and almost the entirety of the rest of the set. He’s especially confident and competent playing rhythm while singing. I hear fleeting snippets of The Ramones and The Beach Boys in their sound. They have the same lack of pretention as on ‘Please Please Me’ (is it sacrilege to say that?)
NME has proven over the decades a priceless ability to peer into that crystal ball of theirs and predict the future of UK Rock n’ Roll. The Vaccines is the band Interpol could’ve been had Turn On The Bright Lights been released in 1998 and they weren’t so indebted to Joy Division and The Bunnymen. For a band that’s only been together one year, The Vaccines’ continuity and vision is incredible. Even the cool crowd had let down their guard by the end of the first song. Will this be the band to break the current American prejudice toward UK guitar bands? The specialness of the night isn’t lost on the four-piece from London, for this may have been their first time on the West Coast, flying into LAX and seeing the endless Pacific. If that’s not inspiring for an artist, I don’t know what is.
‘Post Break-Up Sex’ is their paradigmatic song, I would say. It was played early in the set. For the self-mockery of the title, the sound is serious. The lyrics are emotional and intellectual. They’re not dripping with metaphor but produce highly specialized images. The same can be said for ‘Blow It Up’, which draws the quickest link to The Beatles of ’63 and ’64, but also discloses a little Replacements and even Roy Orbison on a strain of their musical genome.
I hear the Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons on ‘If You Wanna’, which was the fifth or sixth song of the set. There’s a touch of ‘Taste of Cindy’ and ‘Happy When It Rains’ in there, but again the influences are pushed to the background. The Vaccines sound like The Vaccines. They switch up their sound without pastiche or derivation, something Sweaters attempted in vain. ‘If U Wanna’ has a singalong quality by the second or third listen. They’re not as camp as The Arctic Monkeys, and not as repetitive as Franz Ferdinand, but I can’t comment authoritatively, since I’ve only seen Franz Ferdinand in a large venue, not a hotspot as intimate as The Spaceland.
The Vaccines closed their set with a cover of The Standells’ ‘Good Guys Don’t Wear White’, followed by another less than two minute track, ‘Noorgard’. In total, they played for about 35 mintues, covering the spread. They warned us in advance that they wouldn’t play an encore, but I was left wanting more regardless. I think the Vaccines are approaching the game like businessmen. They lack ego and hubris in their interviews. There’s a hunger and drive to their playing — they won’t rest on the buzz surrounding their debut, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, slated for release on March 21st through Columbia Records, for which I shall wait with bated breath. Tell your friends and your frenemies: THIS IS THE BAND TO WATCH!!!
Contributed by Chris Gedos
The Vaccines – We’re Happening
The Vaccines – Blow It Up