Friday, October 12, 2018

If You Wanna: The Vaccines Prove Worthy of Being Given a Shot -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Vaccines
w/ opening act Jesse Jo Stark
Lincoln Hall, Chicago
October 11, 2018

I can't say that the Lollapalooza festival ever held that much interest for me, aside from a few great acts, and I'm past the point of actually wanting to attend it.

Standing in a muddy field all day was never much of a thrill, and it seems my favorite musical form--guitar-driven rock--has been usurped by hip-hop, EDM and various forms of pop, even at festivals. There really aren't many new rock bands I know and care about.

But that last sentence isn't something that I'm happy about, and beyond my own explorations to find something new, I'll commonly ask friends--often in the wake of Lollapalooza in Chicago or other festivals, including SXSW in Austin, TX--if they've seen any stellar bands lately. I also may check out live streams or clips on YouTube.

It was through a combination of these methods that, surrounding Lollapalooza in early August this year, I came to learn of The Vaccines, a British quintet that have released four albums since 2011.

I liked what I heard & saw enough to accept the invitation of a couple friends to see the Vaccines at Lincoln Hall Thursday night, which--in their having had all of their albums hit the Top 5 in the UK but not chart here--extended by own "Hidden in the Isles" Fest of Sorts, which I wrote about here.

Leading into the show, I had Sportifamiliarized myself pretty well with the songs showing up on recent setlists, though can't say my affinity for the Vaccines matched that of the Stereophonics, Ash or Charlatans UK, long-standing personal favorites whom I'd seen in September.

But that was kinda the point, as I think Arcade Fire and The Killers are the closest things to "new bands" I really like, and both their debuts came out in 2004.

To wit, since the beginning of 2010, I have seen over 300 rock concerts by headlining acts. Until Thursday, only one had been by an artist who hadn't released an album before this decade: Fitz and the Tantrums. (Dawes is close enough to mention in this regard, with their debut album coming in August 2009, though the concert of theirs I caught was a free show at Millennium Park.)

So it was nice just to have someone somewhat new pique my interest. And with lead singer/guitarist Justin Hayward-Young the primary point of focus, the Vaccines delivered a highly enjoyable, high-energy 75-minute set that certainly made me glad for the exposure.

This followed 45 minutes--and probably 15 too many--by Jesse Jo Stark and her band, who started strong with the spunky "Wish I Was Dead," but had too many similar-sounding somewhat ethereal songs, reminiscent of second-rate Portishead or a lesser take on Garbage's "#1 Crush."

The Vaccines' punchy, almost punky, power-pop is much more to my liking, but even they suffered a bit for lack of sonic diversity.

Beginning with the opener, "Nightclub," a number of tunes from 2018's Combat Sports sounded good, including "Your Love is My Favourite Band," "Take It Easy" and "I Can't Quit."

But these were relatively similar to the bunch from their 2011 debut, What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?--"Post Breakup Sex," "Nørgaard," "If You Wanna" and the show closing "All in White"--and the only demonstrable change of pace, "Wetsuit," comes from the first album not the latest.

An unreleased song, "All My Friends Are Falling In You," fit in well with the rest, yet also without demonstrating much variety or songwriting growth.

The Vaccines would do well to broaden their soundscape a bit, perhaps adding a bit of angularity akin to Maxïmo Park--another 21st century British band I love--and more piano or other textures. (The Editors are another band that would be a fairly good comparison for how the Vaccines might evolve.)

So even within the rather limited parlance of British Isles bands I love even if most of America is oblivious, I don’t sense that the Vaccines are a historically great band. Certainly not yet.

But they’re quite good at what they do, and within the even more limited scope of rock bands arising this decade that I have seen in concert, they stand at or near the top. (The Struts are another recent find I'll be seeing next month after loving their set opening for Foo Fighters this summer.)

Lincoln Hall is a comfortable venue, especially--for me--given the upstairs seating if you get there early enough. It was nice to see it sold out for the Vaccines, with the enthusiastic crowd presumably including many who had seen them at Lollapalooza and/or the festival aftershow at Schubas.

Hayward-Young was graciously appreciative of the Chicago fans who fill the joint, just two months down the road. And while he was avowedly fighting a cold, he's a pretty dynamic frontman. 

But here too there's opportunity for further development of the Vaccines. 

For while there's much joy to be had in a good, intimate show by a rare newish rock band, alongside friends I hadn't seen for awhile, the best concerts involve more than punching out just over an hour's worth of fun songs.

If I were to see them again down the road--and Thursday's gig was good enought that I'd be open to it--I'd hope not only for a bit more stylistic variance in the music played, but stronger connection developed between the audience and band, or at least the lead singer.

With such tweaks, the Vaccines could really be administered in powerful doses, with considerable and lasting effect.

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