NME said that The Vaccines signalled ‘The Return of the Great British Guitar Band.’ It’s high praise, and probably well earned. More The Drums than the Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines dish up a proven formula of indie rock at its most accessible. You’ve heard it all before yes, but that’s not a bad thing. The Vaccines bank on the timeless quality of heavy guitar, thick reverbs and zippy infectious tunes. If the throwback sound of The Strokes worked for them in the 90’s, why not for the Vaccines in 2015? The bands enormous success shows that there will always be a real appetite for indie lite. Not to mention rock and roll nostalgia. One look around Richmond’s Corner Hotel and you can easily see that the diversity of the crowd is a testament to the mass appeal of their music. There’s a very surprising number of old heads turned out to see a band that was only formed in 2010, and that’s because they’re more than familiar with this rock and roll sound.
Frontman and songwriter Justin Hayward-Young has a deliberately cultivated simplicity to his lyrics. He’s a firm believer in the less is more principle. It’s homage to the breezy tunes of the 1950’s and the origins of rock. Sure, songs about exes and heartbreak aren’t particularly innovative or insightful, but refreshingly, this is music that’s not snarky and not ironic. It’s all delivered with energy, optimism and purity. It was these big Beach Boys sing-a-longs that really ignited the crowd. Post Break Up Sex is a song as one-dimensional as the title suggests, but its catchy and effortless refrain make it the perfect slogan to drunkenly croon in a mosh while you pogo from side to side. The unpretentious Teenage Idol conjures up a Californian prom night or the Ed Sullivan show. The clean, classic indie anthem I Always Knew was rich and warm.
But The Vaccines aren’t just rock and roll in their style, they are rock and roll in their execution. “There’s no Monday night in the world of the Vaccines” yells Hayward-Young. It’s the kind of rock and roll expression that may have been a platitude in decades past, but now has a quirky, retro chic to it. It’s an interesting sentiment for those generations that did not live through the hegemony of rock and roll. Leading track If You Wanna is full of head-banging, rough guitar and break up blues. Someone behind me said “fuck yeah” during a silence – it was completely involuntary and slipped out from sheer frenzy. The Vaccines closed with crowd-favourite Norgaard, the peppy ode to a Danish model. Everything is done quickly and high-energy. With barely a pause in the hour long set.
The Vaccines are still engaging when they dial it back, and provide more wistful songs in the Tame Impala mould. More indie, than indie rock. Dream Lover, a new track off their recently released third album English Graffiti, gives a hint of a possible change in direction for the meat and two veg band. Maybe one shade darker on the colour wheel. A powerful chorus and some haunting lyrics, suggest there might be more to Hayward-Young than he lets on. Something deeper than the shallow image he so carefully manufactures. The crowd ate up this ghostly crooning, lost in a hypnotic sway.
The Vaccines are a more than solid addition to a long and proud rock and roll heritage. A real life ‘British Guitar Band’ that is always best heard live.