Brit Buzz Band Vaccines Impress in U.S. Debut

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The Vaccines' Justin Young / Photo by Kyle Dean Reinford
WRITTEN BY
Peter Gaston

Thursday night, outside New York City's Bowery Ballroom, a pretty brunette pleaded with passersby in broken English for someone to pull her inside, and stood among a dozen or so similarly ticket-less lurkers hovering on the sidewalk. But it wasn't like some beloved superstar was playing a special, intimate gig inside the 550-capacity room, as is so often the case. The night's attraction, the one people were begging to see, was London quartet the Vaccines, and they've been a band for barely six months.

Blame the internet, blame our Ritalin-prescribed attention spans, but this is how it works in 2011. Before they even had a single for sale, and with just one short tour under their belts, the Vaccines were booked for the BBC's vaunted TV show Later with Jools Holland. Soon after, they appeared on the cover of NME.

Why? For starters, their breakout song, "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)," is 84 seconds of the most exciting British rock'n'roll since the Arctic Monkeys. It was their set opener last night. Their second song was called "We Are Happening." Confident much?

So the Vaccines' first American show was an audition for the job of world's biggest band of right now, and after blasting through 12 doses of anthemic, cocksure rock'n'roll in barely 30 minutes flat, they became leading candidates for the position.

Frontman Justin Young and guitarist Freddie Cowan opted for vaguely Western shirts in dull, earthy tones, so it was clear their appeal isn't visual. This wasn't like other hype-y debuts, staged in the very same room - say, Franz Ferdinand's 2004 arrival or Glasvegas' in 2009 - where it seemed like the gods of fashion and rock'n'roll had drunken, dirty sex that spawned the individuals onstage.

Instead, the band's style came coursing through their music, and it was instantly apparent what the fuss in England's been all about, starting with the taut, set-opening "Wreckin' Bar," which isn't even long enough to tweet about. The Vaccines' core ethos is hitched to '70s punk, the kind perfected just a few blocks north at CBGBs, which rewired the simple elegance of '50s and '60s pop with amphetamine-charged abandon. These youngsters then press that sound through a sieve of reverb, shoegaze-style.

The most literal translation of that formula came in the encore, where the Vaccines -- and it gets a bit meta here, so hang on tight -- covered D.C. hardcore pioneers Minor Threat's version of "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White," a 1966 hit for L.A. garage rockers the Standells.

As for their originals, "Wet Suit" was the best amalgamation, with Haywood cooing all affected on a song that sounded like '50s crooner Eddie Cochran wrote it and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields produced it. "All in White" was brilliantly pompous, with a dramatic, bass-led opening and washed over with warm surges of guitar fuzz, while "Post Break Up Sex" had the pub-ready anthemic vibe of Johnny Thunders. (It should be noted that whoever was doing their sound last night deserves a raise.)

The Vaccines closed their set by following the aforementioned Standells cover with their own fantastically punchy "Norgaard," a quite literal plea for lovin' to willowy fashion model Amanda Norgaard. And while the doe-eyed Danish teen might not have been receptive to the band's come-ons, a few hundred New Yorkers certainly had fallen hard and fast, scurrying off to what promised to be the first of many boozy afterparties for these hot newcomers.

Setlist

  1. Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)
  2. We Are Happening
  3. Post Break Up Sex
  4. All in White
  5. If You Wanna
  6. What's Your Perception
  7. A Lack of Understanding
  8. Wet Suit
  9. Under Your Thumb
  10. Blow It Up
  11. Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White
  12. Norgaard
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