THE VACCINES - LIVE @ BRIXTON ACADEMY
By Ellena Schuster-Farrell
I’ve spent The Vaccines’ five year career in a relatively Vaccineless vacuum. At most, I've occasionally been forced to listen to them when they pop up on the radio or in the background of an ad. Anything I have heard completely underwhelms me: its indie stock rock that doesn’t seem to be doing anything new or exciting. But, on a Thursday night before payday, beggars can’t be choosers, and when my friend offers me a free ticket to see them at Brixton Academy, I’m not going to turn it down.
We get to the venue uncharacteristically early, in time to see the support act, Pretty Vicious. To jump on the hype before it becomes a fully-fledged bandwagon, they really are Pretty Decent. I’m impressed to see a group of what seems to be Welsh sixth-formers spitting out tracks with such electricity and finesse. Every song is full of raucous energy and teenage angst, finished off by vocals from lead singer Brad Griffiths that have hints of The Clash’s earlier material. The group triumphantly exits the stage to whoops and cheers (and, bizarrely, one bloke shouting “Go on, my son!) and we wait for the main event. The Vaccines have assembled a motley crew – eagerly awaiting the band’s arrival are gaggles of teenage girls with a token Mum or two, middle-aged men who probably still read NME and a few unexpected groups of Lads! Lads! Lads! out for some pints and an opportunity to push each other around. Such a mixed bunch only further compounds my feeling that I don’t “get” The Vaccines, and I wonder whether I might have been better off at home with my boyfriend (Netflix) and a glass of red (double vodka).
Justin Young & co saunter onstage, launching straight into ‘Handsome’ – and its fast-paced, snappy, and above all else, feel-good music. And of course, the clever PR that has subliminally force-fed me the band in the most peripheral way means that I somehow know all the bloody words. There’s something utterly infectious about this track from 2015’s 'English Graffiti', and it is clear as they dive straight back in with the anthemic ‘Teenage Icon’ that infectious is what they’re going for: everyone in the room is singing it out with them. Without being able to help it, I feel myself thawing and developing a real soft spot for The Vaccines (except when Young is throwing himself around like he’s Morrisey, or doing that annoying Dylanesque drawl for the acoustic version of ‘No Hope’), and I realise just how many belters they have in their back catalogue. Even ‘Post Break Up Sex’, which I had always written off as complete tripe, sounds great when Young is bellowing it live, accompanied by his fans and backed by Freddie Cowan’s flawless guitar. The new stuff sounds great, too, and that 80s vibe created by synthy ‘Dream Lover’ shows the band’s versatility. But it’s with the final track of the night that I finally “get” The Vaccines. With a big, cheesy explosion of red streamers from the side of the stage, the band go out with a bang (sorry, I had to) as they play ‘Nøorgard’ from their debut album. Its lyrically silly – any song that spells words out generally is – and I can’t think of any other time I’ve heard a band sing about “going steady” past the 1950s, but it’s pure, unadulterated sherbet pop that feels good to sing along to and has everyone grinning from ear to ear.
And there we have it. It may not be ground-breaking or “saying” anything, but that’s not the point. On ‘English Graffiti’, Young explained that the band “wanted to make something that sounds amazing next year but terrible in 10 years". It's a refreshing shot of honesty in a pretty wanky industry, and sounding amazing right now is something The Vaccines are doing pretty well.