This Vaccines article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.
Pretty Vicious are almost as young as most of the crowd at the front of The Vaccines’ third night at Brixton Academy. The Merthyr Tydfil foursome, only just too old for school, are already signed up by Virgin EMI. ‘It’s Always There’ sets the tone, moving quickly to a classic guitar breakdown while sporadic moshing breaks out among the teenage groups closest to the stage.
Major label support means that frontman Brad Griffiths is handed a fresh guitar in between every song. It’s understandable that they need retuning, as he thrashes violently at his instrument throughout, in contrast to lead guitarist Thomas McCarthy, who manages to play speed guitar and straight rock riffs while looking cool in a plain white T. Griffiths sings up into the microphone in the style of Liam Gallagher, which invites comparisons with Oasis.
But ‘Just Another Story’ is the only song out of the seven in this set that really bears any resemblance to anything by Oasis. It starts slowly and relatively quietly, building into a deliberate effort to make a classic, epic rock track. Griffiths can barely be heard when singing the quieter parts, but spends most of the set shouting with his eyes shut, mouth wide and cheeks puffed out. More than Gallagher, he looks like Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Donnie Darko’.
‘Cave Song’ is faster and better, with a great riff, and sparks the night’s biggest outbreak of moshing so far. It’s like an incendiary mixture of Led Zeppelin and Arctic Monkeys. An earlier highlight is ‘National Plastics’, with a neat breakdown that gives space for Jarvis Morgan’s bass to come to the fore. Drummer Elliot Jones delivers a machine-gun ending to ‘Are You Entertained’, reminiscent of The Clash, then Morgan smashes his bass and they’re off.
Griffiths and his mates put their whole heart into the Pretty Vicious set, in stark contrast to Justin Hayward-Young, lead singer and enigma at the heart of The Vaccines. His fans love the pop-punk that Hayward-Young purveys. But there is no honesty or integrity to this set. Everything that Hayward-Young does is artifice and pastiche.
The Vaccines open with a song from new album ‘English Graffiti’, ‘Handsome’, which sums up what Hayward-Young thinks about his own appearance. The next number, ‘Teenage Icon’, is famously about Justin, again. ‘Ghost Town’, from the same album ‘Come Of Age’, is another emotionally empty song, well played by the group, while new song ‘Dream Lover’ is slower and forgettable.
After these four largely vacuous tracks, The Vaccines play ‘Wetsuit’ and it becomes apparent what this group is all about. The song does not matter so much as the ritual, as everyone within touching distance of a pair of friendly shoulders in the front 30 rows gets up to dance in a forest of shaky two-person human towers. The song, banal in the extreme, deserves nothing of its celebration, especially as the band perform it in a perfunctory way. But the crowd loves it.
‘Minimal Affection’ from the new album is a poor imitation of Duran Duran. But ‘Wolf Pack’, ‘Bad Mood’, ‘Post Break-up Sex’ ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ and ‘All In White’ are good. And the final song of the encore, ‘Norgaard’, is fantastic. The Vaccines show that they can still write good songs in this vein with ‘20/20’ from the new album. The enigma is why so much of their set is so inferior.
The Vaccines could learn a lot from the heart-on-sleeve performances of their support bands. The Big Moon are slightly older than Pretty Vicious, but no less full of integrity. They genuinely enjoy their early eight-song set. Drummer Fern Ford plays organ as well as drums, sometimes at the same time, making them come across like The Black Keys, but also Arctic Monkeys.
The Big Moon’s songs — including ‘Eureka Moment’, ‘Cupid’, ‘Nothing Without You’ and ‘The Road’ (a really great track) — are clever with memorable refrains. ‘Sucker’ is the hit Slow Club never had. There’s a great thrash-rock garage feel to a lot of the set, as songwriter and guitarist Juliette Jackson spars with co-singer/guitarist Soph Nathan and bassist Celia Archer, in the same way that Hinds put so much joy into live performances. Of tonight’s bands, The Big Moon look like having the best future.