Vines : London Charing Cross Road Astoria

Welcome back...

When The Vines take to the stage tonight you can hear a pin drop. Not literally, obviously - it's a cacophony of hero-worship screaming - but metaphorically a thousand ears are straining to get every note out of a gig that has an awful lot resting on it.

This is delayed NME Awards show is the first UK Vines gig since Craig tried to acquaint bassist Patrick's head with his mikestand in Boston, vehemently didn't have a breakdown and cancelled a series of international gigs (the original NME Awards show going in the process); the first since the reviews started pouring into the NME office saying that on the joint US tour The Vines were baffling audiences while The Music brought the house down.

We've seen mad Vines, glints of genius Vines, ecstatic Vines, and shambolic Vines. No-one knows which will step on stage tonight but with all this screaming comes the moment of truth.

Craig lollops on, nose poking out from sheep dog hair, guitar drooping around his shoulders. He twists his head up until the glowing tip of his cigarette is held high and then lets rip.

'In the Jungle' stampede's around the Astoria like a wounded elephant and grins break out across the venue. Follow-up 'Amnesia' is strung out until its component parts hang by threads and hearts break. 'Mary Jane' spills out in clouds of astonishing feedback and wide-eyes blink in amazement.

The rumours are the next album will be "darker" but there's no sign of that darkness here. New tracks 'Evil Town' and 'Sun Child', that could so easily have ended up dirges in less dexterous hands, are lifted high on helium balloons of exquisite melody, and body after body flow over the security barriers as they thrash out the gut-kick of 'Fuck The World'.

Craig is still tartrazine-toddler entertaining - when he's not poring water over drummer Hamish mid-song he's singing out from under a towel in 'Ms Jackson' - but the under the clowning and elbows there's magic.

By 'Get Free' Patrick and Hamish are grinning like this was their first big gig, like they've never played this song live before. When Craig finishes churning across the stage by attempting to become one with the speaker stack Hamish even picks up the guitar thrown into his kit and has an enthusiastic fling himself. It's almost like this is being in a band with Craig Nicholls business is, yerknow, fun.

What The Vines prove tonight is that this is a band that matter when so many others don't. Some bands that are nice to have around but you wouldn't miss them if they stopped calling. The Vines, however, mattered when NME brought them to you a year ago, they mattered through all the bad times and they matter now. Because this is a band that can change your life. For some, The Vines already have. For everyone else there's time. Band play blinder. Best clearly yet to come. Welcome back.

Conor McNicholas

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