The Joiners, Southampton, January 22
“I blacked out for a couple of seconds up there,” guitarist Freddie Cowan tells NME, as he sweats profusely from places we didn’t even realise contained glands. “It was OK though, I caught myself just before I fell over.” Having just propelled themselves through a feral 60 minutes, Cowan’s onstage near-miss is understandable. With The Joiners’ 150-capacity space crammed to bursting with what feels like almost double that number, this is beyond merely a ‘special gig’ – it’s borderline dangerous.
Tonight is the second in a series of benefit events thrown to help raise money for the ailing venue. And, while we’re sure Frank Turner’s opening gesture went off with a bang, the reality of putting a band like The Vaccines – soon to be among the O2-headlining elite, let’s remember – in a space such as this is a bit like turning up to watch One Direction at The Old Blue Last. It’s crazy, but brilliant – and the crowd that have stood unflinching at the front since the doors opened are more than aware of this.
The set itself is (ahem) what we’ve come to expect from The Vaccines. Delivered at full pelt and sporting far more hits than a band at this early stage of its development should rightly be able to stake claim to, Justin, Freddie, Arni and Pete are, by now, total pros. They know that book-ending the short’n’sharp attack of ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ with the Strokesian jangles of ‘No Hope’ and ‘Tiger Blood’ will have the cumulative effect of making everyone lose their shit. They know that ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘All In White’ will undoubtedly be lighters-aloft singalongs and that, if deployed straight before a belter, the crowd will go from giddy to explosive. And, fundamentally, they’ve always known that if you put every ounce of blood, sweat and tears – so much so that you nearly black out – into a gig, then people are pretty much powerless to resist.
Over the past two years we’ve seen The Vaccines rise through the ranks of every kind of venue – from the grottiest pubs to Reading and Leeds’ heavyweight Main Stage. There’s little doubt that when they add the O2 to that list in May they’ll pull it off with equal aplomb, but tonight makes for a memorable reminder that the quartet don’t need flashy backdrops and enormodomes to completely kill it.
“Without venues like this, bands like The Vaccines wouldn’t exist,” declares Justin towards the evening’s close. “Contrary to some people’s opinions, that’s a bad thing.” Trust us Justin, no-one’s disagreeing with you.