100 Club, London, April 4
Listen close, beneath the volcanic ramalama power punk, and you can just about make out the clinking of Sid Vicious’ spectral bike chain. Four snotty young rock gods roar onto the stage of the 100 Club, bawl through 40 minutes of non-stop two-minute slap-in-the-chops riot pop, throw themselves into the crowd and roar offstage again, no encore. The Vaccines have come home; punk’s undead.
As exhilarating and visceral as it is for tonight’s select crowd of competition winners and guests to see The Vaccines in their natural habitat – ie a sweaty subterranean grothole – there are some misgivings about them playing the original epicentre of punk rock. They resuscitated guitar music in 2011 by stripping it back to its pulsing core, ramming the Ramones into The Strokes in a rush of romantic recklessness, but is it too clichéd, too ‘tribute’ for them to play the 100 Club, the equivalent of Oasis reforming for a gig on the roof of an Apple store?
They even have Zulu, a band featuring the son of Paul Simonon, supporting them. But as frontman Justin Young raises triumphant arms like we’re another rammed festival tent and his feather-light vocals rise above the dungeon thump of ‘Blow It Up’, it feels like more of a nod to their lineage from punk’s next generation. Better still, they use this event to showcase the first batch of second album material, dispelling fears that they might be sunk immovably in the swamp of ’76.
‘Teenage Icon’, in fact, is more ’56, a revitalised rock’n’roll prom song that finds Justin denouncing his classic pin-up status: “I’m no teenage icon/I’m no Frankie Avalon” he coos charmingly, actually only a tight perm and chest wig away. ‘Bad Mood’ adds MC5 grit, Stooges stomp and Pixies squalor to their magma punk blast and ‘No Hope’ dynamically shifts from downbeat balladeer segments to crazed thrashes like a wild-partying Wedding Present. The rest, of course, is familiar to anyone who helped bulge a tent last summer.
They’re not going fidget house or getting Nicki Minaj in to guest anytime soon, but at a time when guitar music needs defiant champions, The Vaccines are, as the century’s most obvious pun goes, a much-needed shot in the arm.
This article originally appeared in the April 21st issue of NME