The poor Vibrators get a bad rap. On the surface, they seem to have a great punk pedigree: Formed in early 1976, they played at the 100 Club Punk Rock Festival (one of the cornerstone events of the movement), shared stages with all the key players of the era, and have been covered by bands like by the Exploited, UK Subs, GBH, and R.E.M. But as ubiquitous as they’ve been, the Vibrators are one of the most derided bands of British punk. After their appearance at the 100 Club festival, leading British punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue called them “the worst band of the whole two days” and proclaimed, “the Vibrators are just out of place, they give themselves a ‘tee hee’ name and make out they’re punks.” Journalist Caroline Coon echoed this criticism in a July 1977 article in which she quoted then-member Pat Collier as saying, “We don’t really go along with the punk thing, but it’s the fashion isn’t it?” Including covers of “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Great Balls of Fire”, and “Let’s Twist Again” in their set probably didn’t help their credibility; neither did the fact that they sported unfashionably long hair until shortly before the release of their first album.
Setting aside any arguments about punks versus poseurs, the Vibrators have been writing and playing catchy songs for 29 years (minus a brief hiatus between 1980 and 1982) over the course of 15 studio albums. While the band’s turnover rate rivals that of McDonald’s, the mainstays are vocalist/guitarist Knox and drummer Eddie; in late 2003, they were joined by Finnish bass player Pete (ex-No Direction). It is this lineup that played at New York’s legendary club CBGB on September 23, 2004, the show captured on the band’s new DVD. The generous 23-song set features four tunes from the Vibrators’ 2002 Energize album and a generous helping of tracks from their first two albums, 1977’s Pure Mania and 1978’s V2. While it’s impossible for a band with such a long history to cover every phase of its career, the Vibrators do a nice job of highlighting their best material, and their performance is energetic if somewhat uneventful. The quality of the recording is high, with a strong 5.1 mix and clear camera work, and there are just enough crowd shots to get a sense of audience reaction without detracting attention from the band.
The most entertaining part of the DVD, however, is a 37-minute bonus interview filmed at CBGB. Knox and Eddie prove to be eloquent and funny commentators on the glory days of British punk as they discuss their participation in the 100 Club festival, their relationship with guitarist Chris Spedding, the influence of the Ramones, and the stories behind their songs. The interview picks up additional steam when Nigel Bennett, their onetime guitarist and a former member of new wave/reggae group the Members, unexpectedly turns up. Bennett is full of humorous stories and one-liners, including his recollection of a sexual encounter with an overweight German fan. At the end of the interview, an exasperated Knox asks him, “You haven’t been taking your medication today, have you?” and we know exactly what he means.
A second, shorter interview conducted on the streets of Hoboken is less informative and entertaining, with the interviewer essentially throwing out names of bands for the Vibrators to muse upon rather than asking real questions. Still, there’s plenty here to recommend the DVD — and the Vibrators themselves, who come off as a genial and competent group. They might not be the punkest of the punk, but as Knox states in the CBGB interview, “We’re nice guys. We just go on playing our stuff and I think our music speaks for itself.”