After 25 Years, Vaselines' Return Worth the Wait

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Frances McKee of the Vaselines / Photo by Josh Sisk
WRITTEN BY
Michael Byrne

The Vaselines are one-quarter jokesters, another quarter dry sarcastic wit, and all the rest, rough-hewn indie-pop gold -- some imperfect alloy of garage, twee, and power pop, famously beloved (and covered) by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. They're the sort of band that can live on a shelf for almost 25 years and reappear to a near-full 1,100 person room in Washington D.C. looking but not sounding a mite dazed but otherwise all-in for rebirth.

"Thank you for coming!" a fan shouted as the dust settled from the Vaseline's charmed and charged -- but feedback-scarred -- opener, "Oliver Twisted."

"Does that mean we've come too quickly?" Frances McGee laughingly replied, setting the tone for a friendly and dirty joke-filled set heavy on old tunes and charm, marred only by persistent sound problems -- and perhaps by running a little too long with a joke about moisturizing with the sperm of underage (preferably 12 year old) boys. McGee really loves wanking jokes, for better or worse.

This was the opening night of the Scottish indie-pop band's first long U.S. tour since unexpectedly reforming in 2008, and first tour, period, since releasing their second full-length record in 25 years, the rather wonderful Sex With An X, of which the 9:30 Club heard only the spit-shined title track and "Overweight But Over You," a straight-up rock blitz that became the night's unlikely climax.

The Vaselines are a cult band and a record collector fetish object -- and, yes, Nirvana ephemera, something the audience of aged indie-rockers and crate-digging 20-somethings would seem to back that up. (There was, however, at least one Eugene Kelly superfan, who obnoxiously kept shouting out "Captain America" as if they were suddenly going to launch into songs from Kelly's other old band.)

Maybe it was picking up confidence in momentum or just loosening up as the Vaselines hour-long set went on, but things really started to break loose -- in the best way -- in the show's second half. Surely, "Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam" is a lovely song, and Teenage Fanclub frontman Norman Blake guesting on bike horn for the sugary twee of "Molly's Lips" was cute.

But the songs didn't start to really dig in deep until the band chucked its set-list, polling the crowd and conferencing on-stage for ringers, and subbing in sharp-edged, noisy songs "Teenage Superstar," "Dying For It," and "Dum Dum," all of which let Kelly go all out in guitar-shred mode. And watching him grit and bear down on quick and anxious solos, things turned from pretty, easy sway to breathless blasting off.

In the '00s, just about every broken-up band ever has gotten a second chance, most with more than two records to their name, and most being more than former obscurities. The Vaselines are then a strange case, and you're left to wonder just how many more Vaselines there are out there, bands without Kurt Cobain patronage, with one wicked-good record that never sold. Bands like that, and bands like the Vaselines, are why crate-diggers exist.

Setlist:
Oliver Twisted
Monsterpussy
I Hate the 80's
Slushy
The Day I Was A Horse
Sex with an X
Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam
The Devil's Inside Me
Turning It On
Molly's Lips
Overweight But Over You
Rory Rides Me Raw
Ruined
No Hope
Let's Get Ugly
Mouth to Mouth
Dying for It
Dum-Dum
You Think You're a Man

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