The Vaccines again, barely a month after the last showing! However, quite the contrast between tonight and the last time out for this band of rogueish indie rock pilferers; this one is the big showpiece of their current “Combat Sports” album tour cycle, a homecoming gig at the prestigious Alexandra Palace, a palatial (no shit, Sherlock!) hilltop arena-sized venue in North London. Uber-fan Rach had booked this months in advance, the date not only happily falling on a weekend (believe me, getting here on weekdays is North Circular purgatory!), but on her birthday weekend, no less. Happy birthday Rachel!
Worryingly, Spurs had an early evening game at Wembley which threatened to delay our arrival; however, after dropping the kids off at Grandma’s for a sleepover, the birthday girl and I set off assisted by her handy phone map app. This picked us out a route which took us along the M25, M1 then through some posh residential areas, avoiding getting sideswiped by a lorry but pitching us up in the leafy car park at the bottom of the hill after a 2 hour run. Parking free - yay! Steep walk up to the venue - boo! Into this ornate glass-roofed (and unforgivingly concrete-floored – glad I brought my kneestraps!) auditorium to get our bearings, before an unexpected opening act, primary colour-suited Irish trio Whenyoung, on at an early 7.15. They impressed me at least with some spritely girly indiepop; opener “Blank Walls” appropriated the ascending riff from The Julie Dolphin’s “Birthday”, and follow-up “Heaven On Earth”’s sugary pop recalled Altered Images, particularly in the vocalist’s yelping yodelly intonations. We agreed that the cover of The Cranberries’ finest moment “Dreams” was a little too much on the nose, but I could forgive them that, as a subsequent “Pretty Pure” (introduced by the gabbling vocalist as their new single, probably the only thing she said for their entire set that I understood!) was a toughened-up Alvvays-like C86 strumalong. All in all, a very decent start.
Much was expected of main support Dream Wife, having come recommended by 3 gents whose musical opinions I respect highly. Well sorry, Messrs. Gurney, Fenton and Langsbury, but they were terrible; all misplaced swagger and attitude, with not a hint of a tune within miles of their amateurish, garage sleazoid set. An odd looking bunch too, with one guitarist copying Grayson Perry’s hairdo, and the cheerleader singer very clearly was her own biggest fan. Sorry girls (and token bloke drummer) but you’re all image over substance, and currently you make Elastica look professional; stop rummaging through Ex Hex’s dustbin and write some songs with tunes in!
We’d given Dream Wife up as a bad job after a couple of numbers and were gratified to discover that what they lacked in tunes, they made up for in brevity, their set clocking in at barely 20 minutes! So we were able to re-enter the by-now packed and seethingly excited auditorium, getting a spot level with the mixing desk, with a pocket of air and a good view. An impatient wait was rewarded at 9.20 with the lights smashing to black, then illuminating the iridescent curtain backdrop as The Vaccines bounded on to the strains of Abba’s “Waterloo”, lustily sung back by this young crowd. The side screens kicked into life as Justin Young led his rabble into the sneering upbeat riffery of opener “Nightclub”, then the dig dumb Ramones-like “Wrecking Bar” and a strutting, pucky and rather splendid actually “Teenage Icon” really got the crowd going.
For all their flaws and still-obvious antecedents, The Vaccines are nonetheless a very fine “live” band indeed, their strength lying in channelling and amplifying the enthusiasm of their audience into one communal mass, their simple, knockabout upbeat songs becoming hooky anthems, resonating around this huge hall as the frenzied crowd devotedly echoed them back. “You know what's coming,” Justin teased as the single note opening to the 50’s soda bar doo-wop of “Wetsuit” turned into a communal chant, then newie “Out On The Street” impressed with a bouncy beat and a helium hook, challenging Justin’s vocals, and “Melody Calling” recalled The Smiths with a melancholy and undulating guitar hook.
“Did you miss us? 6 years is a long time in rock’n’roll!” enquired Justin before the chunky 80’s radio rock of newie “Your Love Is My Favourite Band”, then, “Post Break Up Sex” was introduced with, “[this is] one from the vaults – if you don’t know the words you’re in the wrong room!” “Norgaard” and “Surfing In The Sky” made for a galloping mid-set double as the band hurtled through proceedings with some pace, and the very Buddy Holly rockabilly drumbeat of “I Always Knew” finally led into their finest moment, the hurtling intro and feelgood hook of “If You Wanna”. Glitter confetti appropriately fired off as the glitter stomp of set closer “I Can’t Quit” rounded off a whip-crack hour set, which seemed to me a little short for an arena-level headlining set, but I couldn’t deny the boys had packed it full or energy, hooks and effort.
We were looking for a flyer so Rach was happy to head off midway through final encore number “All In White” at half ten, before a fairly easy egress and inky M4 hurtle saw us home for 12.30. A thoroughly fun evening out with The Vaccines, still hardly the world’s most original band for me, but increasingly good value “live” and, most importantly, the birthday girl had a ball!