The Brits, in case you haven't heard, have the tendency to overhype bands. Even before the Artic Monkeys and the Black Kids actually released albums, people were already sick of them. Recently, our friends across the pond have heaped loads of attention and praise upon scrappy young pop band The Vaccines, who finished third on the BBC’s influential Sound of 2011 list, even though their debut album, the cheekily-named What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?, won’t be out until March. Of course, the question remains: is it deserved? After last night’s Bowery Ballroom show, which was originally scheduled for Mercury Lounge, I think it just might be.
At precisely 10:30pm, The Vaccines took the stage, opening with “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)," a song you should be hearing just about everywhere in the coming months. It was a jumpy, infectious cross between the Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ramones and Phil Spector’s End of the Century, clocking in at a mere 90 seconds. And though the songs got longer, the sound stayed about the same—it was potential hit after potential hit, including standouts “If You Wanna,” “Norgaard,” and “Blow It Up,” whose title is sung in the chorus in the same fashion as John Lennon chanting “And I do” from “I Should Have Known Better.”
Bassist Arni Hjorver never changed his expression from absolutely determined, keeping the bass-heavy group very much on track, while drummer Pete Robertson, whose sound matched the enthusiasm of the songs, couldn’t stop smiling. Lead guitarist Freddie Cowan is the Carl BarÃƒÂ¢t to singer Justin Young’s Pete Doherty, albeit (presumably) without the drugs and animosity. What made the Libertines such a great band was the relationship between its two lead man; Cowan and Young were similarly in-sync with one another, with Young stepping back during Cowan’s guitar solos to let him bask in the attention for a moment.
The best example of this came from “All In White,” the most impressive song they played last night. It started off slow, with three fourths of the band silent, while Young sang, “Tout me, doubt me, show me all of your power.” It sounded like a challenge, and the rest of the band charges in, at Young’s defense. His vocals rose up over the music. It’s what the Strokes tried (and failed) to do on First Impressions of Earth. If they only had Young’s soaring vocals instead of Julian’s intentional lack of passion.
What impressed me most was that the band didn’t look like they were buying into their hype. In interviews, they’ve spoken about how being called an "It Brit band" is both a blessing and a curse, and they did nothing last night to make me think they’re anything but humble. The Vaccines were professional and focused, even while dealing with a less than stellar sound system. They also looked like they were having fun: they looked like a rock band playing their first show in the States.
After playing a 10-song, 30-minute set, the Vaccines left the stage, returning a few moments later to play a two-song encore, beginning with “Good Guys,” a song originally recorded by the Standells and later covered by Minor Threat, whose version they hewed more closely to. To their credit, they clearly won over fans of the original and the more aggressive cover. After singing “Norgaard,” Young slammed his mic on the ground and left the stage without saying a word, while the rest of the band finished the song. He wasn't angry or doing it for show—it was a spike of triumph: The Vaccines’ first U.S. show was a success, and they just might live up to the hype.
Photo by Nadia Chaudhury