Here in New York, the weekends always seem to suffer from heavy snowfall or torrential downpours. In much the same way, every time I am “lucky” enough to see The Vines live, I witness Craig Nicholls and crew performing with the energy of a tranquilizer addict.
The partially acclaimed first album, 2002’s Highly Evolved, and its March 2004 follow-up, Winning Days, didn’t set the world on fire, but still contained a volatile essence. For that reason, like many of my peers, when I first heard Highly Evolved,, I thought I had found a band whose reckless abandon threatened to lay waste to the current anemic, cappuccino-topped froth of a music industry.
So what happens after this Australian four-piece comes out of the studio? Perhaps the hype that followed Nicholls—his rarely documented but oft written and talked about guitar-destroying fits of pique—created an urban rock myth. After all, at Irving Plaza, The Vines’ second appearance at the venue, the band again delivered a meager, down-tempo performance that left another audience sorely disappointed.
Like the sun during these bleak midwinter (it’s meant to be March!!) East Coast days, only few moments of brilliance shone through during The Vines’ set. Renditions of “Ride” and “Highly Evolved” were barbed with the energy that the albums had threatened, but too often Nicholls et al. went through the motions, caterwauling and thrashing their instruments.
Ultimately the band failed to even set alive a mild encore. It would be mockingly unfair to suggest that The Vines are established enough to hold their audience in actual disdain, but they came across as only trying to play apathetic, faded rockstars, performing live music merely for the paychecks.
Based on their studio work, I doubt they are capable of that level of professional insincerity. From Nicholls’ emotionally pained howling on “Get Free”, “Highly Evolved” and the new single, “Ride”, to the solid guitar-based structure that entwines their sound, The Vines genuinely come across as a good band that probably cares about the music it’s creating. Yet there’s no denying that The Vines’ performance comes up short in person.
At Irving Plaza, it suffered even further in comparison to the band’s two warm-up acts, one of which, in particular, should not be allowed to play second fiddle much longer.
Living End opened the night’s proceedings with an energetic fusion of ska and punk, haphazardly scattered with shrieking guitar solos and stunt double-bass riding/playing. Double bass, ska and punk—admittedly, it sounds like a recipe for rockabilly (groan). But to give the Australian triumvirate their due, it was all played with the enthusiasm and commitment that makes them entertainers.
Then, to the kind of greeting reserved for returning rock conquers, Jet bounded on stage. “Move On”, the band’s first offering, saw the crowd whopping, yelping, jumping, surfing and swooning. “Cold Hard Bitch” and “Rollover DJ” didn’t do anything to temper the furor—or to slacken Jet’s recurrent (and deserving) comparisons to the Rolling Stones, Small Faces and, in places, even the revered Beatles.
Jet’s modern, impossibly-easily-to-listen-to take on Mick Jagger and friends, coupled with the band’s unbridled energy, filled Irving Plaza with a sense of expectation. That’s exactly the sort of thing most headlining bands thrive on, riding to even greater heights. Most bands, but evidently not The Vines.
Watching the headliner struggling through its second number, it was Jet’s drumstick-wielding vocalist Chris Cester—standing behind me in a balcony that had become mortuary-like, compared with the venue’s earlier fervor—who expressed what everyone around must have been thinking.
“I wouldn’t want to be coming onstage after Living End and us.”
Indeed, Cester and his band’s performance signal that Jet’s gleeful acceptance and meteoric rise show no sign of slowing down. In stark contrast to the night’s headliner, Jet provides throwback, ‘70s rock as it was meant to be played: with unbounded energy, passion and youthful exuberance.
The night’s outcome raises new questions: like our wretched weekend weather, will The Vines continue to disappoint when these three next roll into town? Or are those the winds of change I hear blowing?
It might be better to ask, whether it will be the Living End and The Vines going on in support of Jet?