November 12, 2002
The Vines/The Bandits : Birmingham Academy
The future's bright
Craig Nichols has an announcement to make. Er, except it's less of an announcement than a petulant belch. "Fuck 'Factory'" he mumbles from under his fucked-up mop of hair. Eh? 'Factory' was the song that first brought The Vines unique gifts to our attention. One of the top cuts on their superb debut album. This is the beginning of the first full tour where people have had a chance to hear the whole album live. And he says "Fuck 'Factory'". What's up?
After all, it's less than eight months since The Vines headlined London's tiny Camden Monarch with East End urchins The Libertines in tow. In that time, they've successfully wooed a nation (ours, not theirs, admittedly), had a fair old crack at America and done much to aid the critical rehabilitation of Swervedriver. Not a bad year, all told.
Still, the opening date of NME's Term Warfare Tour is the biggest indoor venue The Vines have played in their brief history. Support act The Bandits - talked up as Liverpool's finest export since The Coral - have already showcased their grasp of La's-inflected tunefulness (particularly on 'The Warning' and 'Free Me Rain') pointing to a future where they will effortlessly storm the charts and eclipse their peers. The Vines have a lot to live up to.
Where lesser bands would've started by playing one of their singles, The Vines plump instead for 'Mary Jane', a barely disguised hymn to smoking weed wrapped in a dirgeful delivery, maudlin vocals and pedestrian pace. It's a perverse but gloriously ballsy opening for a band everyone is expecting to see explode. Craig even strokes some hellborn feedback from his guitar, whacking in a new verse about smoking being all he wants to do.
'Outtathaway' is carelessly tossed in second like it was a b-side - rather than one of the singles of the year - and a minute in Craig is arching his head high and wrestling his guitar. At the back, increasingly mysterious bassist Patrick Matthews builds a tight structure around song and singer as though he's the sole key to their stability, letting the sounds fly free, but ensuring they don't spiral away into the ether.
Two new songs are unleashed on the UK: 'Evil Town' reverberates with the same kind of keen energy and brutality that makes 'Get Free' so wantonly seductive. But 'Amnesia' is the sleepy Trojan horse, insistently scratching at your consciousness until you realise you're experiencing the finest harmonies this band has ever conjured up - this may already be their best song. People gaze openmouthed at each other - where did this come from?
Live stalwart 'Ms Jackson', is the closest we have to an arena moment, Outkast's motherfunking apology minced into a stark, relentless pleading, but - crucially - keeping the hooks intact. But it's nothing compared with relative newie and now established set-closer 'Fuck The World'. Its raging verses sound as fresh as if they were written that afternoon and yet so familiar that it's like Craig's tapping into a collective memory. It ends with guitars sailing through drums and a cymbal stand held aloft like some magic totem before inevitably crashing earthwards.
So 'Factory''s out, for now at least, but that's rendered insignificant as this is a band (highly) evolving at an extraordinary pace. The Vines have already established themselves as one of the best live acts in a decade. But tonight they offered us a tantalising glimpse of what's to come. The future's bright.
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