Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Vaccines @ KCLSU, London

29 January 2011

There’s a race on to lead a resurgence of traditional garage rock bands we’d been wrongly told there was no market for anymore. There is of course a huge market for guitar bands that hark back to a better past, it’s just a matter of finding the good ones. While Americans Mona and Slough’s Brother gear themselves up, Londoners The Vaccines have found themselves in pole position as this clutch of new lad acts all emerge together.

The Vaccines’ position in the class of 2011 was cemented following a by-all-accounts bedlam of a free gig at the recently-departed London venue The Flowerpot. From then on a gig in a venue of KCLSU size was never going to be easy to get a ticket for, and tonight’s student union date fast sold out.

The four-piece, led by Justin Young (formerly known as folk singer Jay Jay Pistolet), look endearingly unstylish in their cardigans and bad haircuts. For a band riding a hype-wave, they don’t seem weighed down by self-consciousness or calculated cool. Young is a likeable frontman, his decent voice doing the job, his manners impeccable and his demeanour free from the swaggering alpha male you might expect.

First single Wrecking Ball is the first track in tonight’s half-hour gig, and immediately exposes the contradiction; this great new hope of a band sound so old-fashioned. At under one-and-a-half minutes of raucousness, its brevity still jars. The song having already made an appearance in the new series of Skins, it seems clear that they’re trying to create these songs for a gap in the market. But while there’s a lot to be said for giving people what they want, it’s all a little too knowing.

Throughout the set you can hear Buddy Holly‘s influence, and they marry up his feel-good pop vibes with the heavier sounds of The Strokes (on Post Break-Up Sex) and Interpol (on All In White). That range of styles bodes well for the album, but for those hoping for them to create a magical energy in the room, it seems strangely absent.

So if there is a genre vacancy for a young sparky garage rock band, are The Vaccines fit for purpose? On tonight’s performance, no. They’re good, but it seems like desperation to force them to be this generation’s saviours as that flag is too heavy for them to bear. Where The Ramones were original, The Strokes had the tunes and The Libertines had the character, The Vaccines have yet to find that something special.

However, while their fans could instead just buy a record by one of those predecessors, that would miss the point. This style of music needs to be reborn every few years by new acts who can be readily seen in venues like this, with new songs heard for the first time by new consumers. And as far as that goes, The Vaccines might not offer anything original but they’re a fun and passable proposition.

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More on The Vaccines
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The Vaccines – Combat Sports
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The Vaccines @ Electric Brixton, London
The Vaccines – Come Of Age