Vines : London Camden Electric Ballroom

A winning evening....or not?...

In the two years since their legendary UK live debut in a tiny pub in Brighton, [a]Vines[/a] have played some astonishing, mesmerising gigs. On the other hand, though, they’ve turned in performances that… well, suffice to say that there are audiences in this country who would be well within their rights petitioning the United Nations for crimes against humanity. In short, as [a]Vines[/a] stride onstage at the Electric Ballroom for the first show promoting new album, ‘Winning Days’, they have the partisan audience’s goodwill on their side. But if they mess it up…

Omens are initially good – a beaming Craig even looks as if his mum ruffled his hair before he stumbled onstage. It’s a welcome contrast to the troubled spectre of a year ago. Thankfully, any doubts of what they’re capable of are left for roadkill by current single ‘Ride’, which revs up proceedings admirably. It’s a thrilling trip of gutbusting shrieking that’s as exhilarating as it is dumb. Then, in a deft display of their versatility, ‘Amnesia’, showcases the fragile lowkey melodies and (I)singing!(i) that, since ‘Country Yard’, have proved to be the most fascinating side of [a]Vines[/a].

It’s a pretty natty trick, for whenever those gorgeous confections like newies ‘Winning Days’ and captivating ‘Autumn Shade II’ (must have spent ages on that title, lads) wrap you gently in a blanket of wistful emotions they distract from the fact that other newies ‘She’s Got Something’ and ‘Animal Machine’ while having all the rock bits in the right rock places, are frustratingly insubstantial fare, thinner than the sheet of paper you’re reading.

Rock salvation comes in the glorious sound of ‘TV Pro’: this searing howl blossoms into an intoxicating expressive vocal riff as Craig howls over and over ‘Yeahherherher…Yeah!’. As if seized by a malevolent spirit, Craig is not so much speaking as shrieking in tongues. NME remains utterly transfixed on the off chance that his head starts spinning around and he makes incantations to Satan.

We have to wait for the inevitable set closer ‘Fuck The World’ for an approximation of this: guitars are bent and broken, Craig singer appears almost to levitate, new words are invented and while his head doesn’t quite do the spinning thing his contorted face definitely implies the presence of a suitable case for the Sea Of Souls crew. At the very least he’s in big trouble if the wind changes direction.

In two years they’ve lurched across the tightrope of high expectation continually threatening to plunge at any moment. Tonight they’re occasionally still entrancing, still overblown, and still reaching for the stars. But for a band which once promised so much, mere glimpses of their original brilliance just isn’t good enough.

Anthony Thornton