Live Review: The Vaccines

Electric Ballroom, London, April 8th

A fear of the dark. The need to procreate. The urge to punch Bruno Mars until you’re wearing his eyeballs for sovereign rings. And, now, a love of [a]The Vaccines[/a]. It’s a primal thing, rooted deep in the prehistoric brain stem, and right now, as ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ buzzes to a squealing halt after only 82 seconds, it’s making the Electric Ballroom indulge in that other natural instinct of the rocking classes – throwing lager.

“It’s good to know we’ve got some friends in our home town,” says Justin Hayward-Young, while bassist Arni Hjörvar peruses the crowd with an icy Icelandic aloofness and guitarist Freddie Cowan leaps from the drum riser like a red-shirted Marty McFly. NME suspects he’s been taking understatement lessons from the Labour National Debt Assessment Department; Vaccines fever has swept the nation and there’s clearly no cure. It’s because they’re firing up the most fundamental elements of rock’n’roll, yet delivering them with the passion, snarl and jubilance of punk’s infancy.

Under Your Thumb’, the flawless ‘If You Wanna’ and ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ are rip-snorting Ramones surf-punk right down to the gang-chant choruses and two-minute curfew. ‘Blow It Up’ taps into the same [a]Velvet Underground[/a]-demolishing-the-Wall Of Sound majesty as prime [a]Glasvegas[/a], but uses it to knock out a chiming pop charmer that sounds like [a]The Beatles[/a] caught in an industrial rock crusher. And why did you immediately love ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ as if it’s a song you were rocking out to in the cradle? Because you were – it’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ crossed with [a]Keane[/a]’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. Only faster, played by The Crickets and – crucially – about shagging.

The question is, how does a band so rooted in the base ore of ’50s prom rock develop? The grandiose and moving ‘Wetsuit’ proves they can do elegance, but when they stray from the three-chord furrow – when, for example, ‘All In White’ goes for the goth Kings Of Leon ‘dollar’ or ‘A Lack Of Understanding’ pulls a full-on [a]White Lies[/a] – they slam the brakes on what should be a drag-race gig, and expose Justin’s voice as a bellow that’s about as seductive as a donkey punch.

Their ‘virtually impossible’ second album will tell; for now Justin’s riveting enough when he’s wrapping his teenage Dennis Wilson aesthetic around a grit-’60s gallop like ‘Nørgaard’ and using the phrase “go steady” in a pop song for the first time since 1956. Who’s put the ram in the ramalama ding-dong? That’ll be [a]The Vaccines[/a], and they’re driving it home hard.

Mark Beaumont

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