For start, this gig was meant to be at the cozy sweatbox of the Camden Monarch nearly a month ago. People who had heard the rumbling of a great new band rushed out and bought tickets, only to be called just before the date to be told that the tickets that they had bought were useless—the band’s management had moved the gig to a bigger venue. It was a bare-faced lie. The gig went ahead although mostly filled by industry types and as often happens, the regular punters were bumped to allow the industry whores to have their guestlist allocation. At least that’s what cynics like this writer ascertained. Clearly, there was something happening with The Vines that people wanted to see, even if it meant shafting the paying public.
10 Apr 2002: ULU London
Now at the larger ULU, they had a chance to show the common people what the chosen ones had witnessed, and it seems that their own hype was outstripping their progress. Of course there is nothing wrong with a bit of hype, especially if you have something substantial to back it up. The Vines do, but only sporadically.
Nirvana are apparently the biggest influence on the Australian three-piece. At times, they do suck up and blast out the kind of squall that Cobain did during the Bleach era, and singer/songwriter/guitarist Craig Nicholls does have the ability to make his primal scream sound genuinely tortured and not just like a Tobe Hooper film. Nu-metalers take note. But to say that they sound just like early Nirvana would be well wide of the mark. Musically, they are all over the place but the noise levels rarely dropped.
Occasionally they hit upon something genuinely stirring and exciting and then—often in the same song—they veer off and sound like a bunch of drunken skate kids let loose in a guitar shop. And of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Their forthcoming album has been produced by Rob Schnapf—who oversaw Beck’s Odelay—so their diversity should not be a problem. In fact, they already have the songs ready for the second album, so don’t expect them to be going off anywhere just yet.
Slower songs like “Mary Jane” are teased out with a long screeching psychedelic drawl and Nicholls changes the pitch and tone of his voice as much as the band alter their approach to songs. Drummer Hamish Rosser and bass player Ryan Griffiths crank out a ferocious noise, but they peak when their power is limited to short bursts. The 95 seconds of “Highly Evolved” is the pinnacle of their set and, not surprisingly, the current single. As an ode to prostitute’s calling cards (“If you feel low / you can buy love / from a payphone,”) it’s a one of the singles of the year and if this doesn’t get your pulses racing then the odds are you don’t have one.
The lazy tag of “the Australian Strokes” should be dismissed straight away and given time. The Vines could become something comparable to the size of their hype. Almost certainly not the next big thing that some people are making them out to be, but then in a world where Travis and the Sterophonics are headlining festivals it’s a welcome sight to see bands who are making a noise that both excites the public and scares mainstream radio at the same time.