They’re the next “big thing”, they’re wild, they’re Beatlesque with a Nirvana punk rock vibe, and look out Strokes and Stripes, these guys have taken away all of your hype! As high as the expectations riding on The Vines might be though, their lackluster show in Philadelphia would sour even the most optimistic music fan. Tempers, taunts and a general lack of interest on the part of both the band and audience killed what was anticipated to be one of the best shows this year.
20 Jul 2002: Theater of Living Arts Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Never has such a feeling of excitement been sucked out of a room so quickly. From almost the instant that Vines singer Craig Nicholls began “Outtathaway” in the wrong key and slowed tempo, the crowd began to look at one another questioningly. Boos and cries of “You suck!” began, continuing to rain down throughout the evening.
Nicholls looked to be staging the clichéd rock and roll behavior. Clad in a girl-sized Vines T-shirt in a weak attempt at androgyny, he warbled his way from one song to the next, not only out of tune, but missing verses, appearing stoned and disoriented. Numerous times, the singer became wrapped in his guitar strap, requiring a stagehand to come out and untangle him. He staggered about, taking forever to light a cigarette or undo his belt to the delight of squealing girls pressed up against the edge of the stage. The Morrison-meets-Lydon-meets-McGowan display seemed so contrived not because Nicholls couldn’t pull it off, but for the fact that after virtually every antic or song ending, he gamely thanked the audience in a very sober and not so punk way. Johnny Rotten never spat on the crowd and thanked them afterwards . . . if he did, it was with a sneer with more saliva waiting in the wings—not a cherub like smile of sincerity.
When the real Nicholls showed up, the show became much more interesting. The overabundance of 12-year-old girls screamed for him to take his shirt off. He obliged, revealing a soft white stomach, which put the preteens into overdrive, one shrieking that she wanted the Australian frontman to father her child. A clearly agitated Nicholls, who was trying to get caught up in playing the rock god, not a teen pop star, let them know that they were messing with his show. After many heated requests of “Shut up!” failed to silence the prepubescents, Nicholls disgustedly threw the shirt to them. “Shove that fucking shirt down her throat,” he demanded.
Frustrated and not getting the response desired, Nicholls returned to the music, which did show flashes of brilliance from a band that has driven the Brits absolutely insane and has those in the States hopeful for something other than the bland Top 40 force fed to them every day. Following a lackluster performance of current single “Get Free”, The Vines did an acoustic version of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” that was nothing short of brilliant. At that point in the show though, the crowd was too bored to be reeled back in. Only four short songs later, Nicholls effectively and almost predictably pulled the plug on the show.
Halfway through “1969”, the last number, he climbed up onto the drum riser and did a backwards jump while playing a note. Landing wrong, Nicholls tumbled backwards into the monitors, and tried to pull himself up with the microphone stand, which promptly came crashing down upon him, leaving the audience cheering wildly at the misstep, sending the singer into a tantrum. He grabbed a strobe light off of one of the amps and threw it into Hamish Rosser’s drum kit, then launched himself into the drums in a poor recreation of Nirvana’s Bleach back cover photo.
Ultimately, Nicholls comes off as less Kurt and more clueless. The Vines have released one of the finest albums of the year with their debut, Highly Evolved, a stunning blend of ferocity and melody, but they need to realize that the idea of a tour is to generate more interest and buzz in favor of the band—not to pose as some cheap, new millennium grunge hopefuls.