The Vaccines are back. For longtime readers of the blog, this might not come as a surprise. I hailed them when they announced their new album and lauded it upon release. But at least, finally, I got the chance to see them live. And, spoiler, it was probably the best gig I’ve been to.
Picture the scene. The venue? The Cheese and Grain, in Frome, Somerset. If you haven’t heard of the town, don’t worry, neither had I until the Vaccines announced it on this short run of gigs to celebrate the recent release of Back in Love City, their fifth album. It’s a quaint market town with awful transport links and an underlying uncertainty you’d get from watching The Wicker Man on repeat.
I ended up spending more than I expected to stay at an Airbnb, and one of my trains was nearly cancelled at the last minute. It was a gig I nearly abandoned several times along the way, but one I thank God above I didn’t. Because as soon as I entered the venue, and rest my weary arms upon the front barrier, I knew I was in for a good time. The atmosphere, before even the first support act’s chord had been plucked, was electric. This was intimate. We were going to be up close and personal.
The two supports, by the way, were incredible. Alan Power (Frome native) and BSÍ (all the way from sunny Reykjavik, Iceland). They each had their own style, but both packed the punch of a band I’d expect to see supporting the Vaxxers at the height of their commercial glory, way back in 2011. These two acts alone told me I was right to come to Somerset, and right to queue up incredibly early – although, to be fair, I was in the company of two rather dedicated fans; who were very nice, and couldn’t have treated me nicer as I squealed like a relative at a Toys ‘R Us the entire night.
Then the Vaccines came out – the band I have been raving about for months on end. Frontman Justin Young was a metre from me at best, guitarist Freddie Cowan was in grabbing distance (I didn’t grab him). The band kicked into ‘Wanderlust’, a song from their new album – and possibly the heaviest they’ve ever done, by Young’s own admission. The lowdown, crunchy guitar translated beautifully into a live setting, and immediately the crowd went wild. For those who still argue that Back in Love City doesn’t deliver the same punchy, punky licks of What Did You Expect…, please, please go along and see the boys. They don’t disappoint.
‘I Can’t Quit’ – from 2018’s Combat Sports – was just as brutal, before the barreling western gallop of ‘I Always Knew’ thundered through the smalltown setting. The audience knew every word, and it was clear to see the boys will never escape their colossal past. Tragically, for fans of Come of Age, it was the only song from the album performed live (they’ll never play ‘Weirdo’ again, will they?).
‘Alone Star’ and ‘Paranormal Romance’ – both new tracks – affirmed my thoughts on the new album; the tracks I love, I love. And the tracks I don’t love? Well, they’ll grow on me anyway. Both songs were nothing more than filler to me on first listen. And yet that night, I was bellowing out every lyric like I’d been listening to them for years.
The Vaccines appeased that one guy shouting, ‘Play your old stuff!’ with some selections from their delightfully naïve debut on teenage indifference and melodrama; in the form of ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘Post Break-Up Sex’. The poppy candour of ‘Your Love Is My Favourite Band’ proved just as strong, before we slowed into the next station taking us to Love City – the fan favourite, ‘El Paso’. And my God, it was hauntingly beautiful. The lyrics, though dubious on paper, were downright poetic onstage, with Young really pouring out his heart.
‘Headphones Baby’ made for one of the most interesting songs of the night. A track bound in 80s glimmer, live it became something darker, more stripped-back. The lead single from the record, I still adored it, but nonetheless I was taken aback in just how different it was, as if the purples and rich blues had darkened with time.
Young brought out his white acoustic for ‘Handsome’ – a short, fuzzy odd to youth and Byron-esque reflection. ‘Jump Off the Top’, which was a live staple for many years before its official release on Love City, really got the crowd going. It was clearly written for the audience to jump along to, so live it came into its own; a sonic beast let off the chain.
‘All My Friends Are Falling in Love’ gave way to perhaps the band’s biggest song, ‘If You Wanna’, and once again I was reminded of how much I love this band. Sure, I don’t see the difference between each album as much as some people, but however you dissect the ‘eras’ of the Vaccines, each one stands out as simply incredible. Every album has its chart-toppers, its hidden gems, its fan favourites. And by unanimous decision, the band were on fire that night – practically drowned out by us fans when the chorus hit.
‘XCT’ – my favourite from Love City – is big enough, and bad enough, to get the live treatment. And it’s like nothing else the band have done before. A mosh pit started in the middle of it, and Young’s eyes were on full glare, channeling anger and age-old heartbreak into one of the best rock songs of recent history. Every member onstage was tapping into their inner Hyde.
Then comes the contractual encore and drummer Yoann Intonti steps onstage, delivering a clattering solo matched only by the beat of my pounding heart. ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’, the first song from the first record, was just as timeless, but the band wouldn’t let us have a break. We were like dice in their hand, and it was up to them when the fun was over.
If you’re unfamiliar with Vaccines’ shows, there’s always one song that closes it out. The ultimate fan favourite, ‘All in White’ (from WDYEFTV?). And never before did the biblical lyrics and messiah complexes strike so true; with Young sporting his best ‘Cult Leader’ shirt and brandishing his arms as if at Sunday Mass. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen at a concert, and it finished the night flawlessly.
I’d never been to Frome, and it gave me a headache before I’d even boarded the first train there. But this is one of those moments in life when you take a chance, and it pays off tenfold. To the Vaccines, it may well have been a moderately interesting gig at a small venue they’d never been to before; another stop on the road that’s seen them in London, Leeds and Oxford. But to me, it was an electrifying night that didn’t let up. Even for a second.
So, to the Vaccines, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for one of the best nights of my life, and one of the best acts I’ve had the privilege to see live. And if ever you wanna come back to Frome, it’s alright.