The Vaccines Live – Losing His Voice Can’t Stop Justin Young’s Transformation Into One Of Indie’s Most Magnetic Frontmen

Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
November 17, 2015

“You may have noticed I’ve lost my voice,” says Justin Young towards the end of the opening night of The Vaccines’ latest tour, before coughing and spluttering. But, swept onstage on a tide of adulation, the frenzied crowd’s singing drowns him out anyway.

With Chinese lanterns looming overhead, The Vaccines enter to a hero’s welcome, a blur of denim and energy, before powering through the two-pronged attack of ‘Handsome’ – from latest album ‘English Graffiti’ – and its lyrical flipside, 2012’s ‘Teenage Icon’. Whereas before, Justin sang of being the imposter syndrome-ridden underdog (‘I’m not magnetic or mythical/I’m suburban and typical’), in the Instagram-baiting ‘Handsome’ he’s thanking the lord above that he is pretty.

Though tongue-in-cheek, there’s a sense it mirrors his transformation as a whole: from everyman to magnetic frontman, prowling the stage, and eyeballing audience members with a lip-curling sneer during old Ramones-like calling card ‘Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’, dropping to his knees theatrically throughout ‘ Give Me A Sign’ and gesturing for more applause (“Come on!”) after a sultry ‘Dream Lover’ – the latter ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’-shaped monster showing how they’ve broken out of their self-imposed ‘rama lama ding dong’ straitjacket. The reaction that greets is so deafening it almost feels like a two-fingered salute to the Mercury Prize judges who snubbed them this year.

Before the show, the quintet had tweeted “we wanna play some songs that we don’t usually play. We will post two options per show to vote on,” with 2011’s ‘Wolf Pack’ triumphing tonight, powered by Freddie Cowan’s urgent, itchy riffs, flood lights beaming behind him. Whether trying to make up for Justin’s AWOL voice or amped up by playing the biggest stage they have in a while, the group are tourniquet-tight: from Freddie – still getting mileage out of the ‘Handsome’ bomber jackets – skidding on his knees while axe-soloing, to bassist Árni Árnason lassoing his mic lead while assuming frontman duties on ‘Blow Your Mind’.

As ever, the gig has a brisk “I won’t take my coat off, I can’t stop” breathless energy to it: with the curt likes of ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, ’20/20′ and ‘Minimal Affection’ desperate not to outstay their welcome. For the encore, it’s just Justin and an acoustic guitar belting out the heartfelt ‘No Hope’ – introduced as “If you don’t know this one, you shouldn’t be here” – a communal spine-tingling singalong. “Wolverhampton, what a welcome home party!”, he declares wide-eyed, having just touched down in England yesterday. Climaxing with ‘Nørgaard’, with Young, wearing a Vaccines branded baseball shirt, hurling himself into the audience to belt it out while crowd-surfing – and doubtless infecting myriad fans like an indie version of the Outbreak monkey – you get the feeling that, just as Justin once commented in an interview about “feeling underrated” as a songwriter going into ‘English Graffiti’, The Vaccines thrive when seemingly being on the back-foot. Their bubblegum pop retooled for 2015 has defied illness, as they head offstage to toast success with Lemsip.

The Vaccines played:

‘Handsome’
‘Teenage Icon’
‘Ghost Town’
‘Dream Lover’
‘Wetsuit’
‘Minimal Affection’
‘Tiger Blood’
‘Wolf Pack’
‘Bad Mood’
‘Post Break-Up Sex’
‘Melody Calling’
‘(All Afternoon) In Love’
‘Give Me A Sign’
‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’
’20/20′
‘I Always Knew’
‘If You Wanna’
‘All In White’
‘No Hope’
‘Blow Your Mind’
‘Nørgaard’