Last year The Vaccines generated queues outside The Flowerpot for their debut gig. This week they returned to Camden with an exclusive show at Barfly – only a handful of tickets were sold, the majority were given away free to competition winners. During the set singer Justin Young told the crowd of his ambition for the band to headline Camden’s Barfly, “and now we are”. But this will be their last chance for some time to play such a small venue, given their forthcoming UK tour schedule and their support slot on the Arctic Monkeys’ tour of the US. On Thursday night an electric combination of a loyal audience in a small venue and the album’s top-five chart entry encouraged the band to really let go and enjoy themselves.
Following their SXSW shows the band have altered the order of their live set, beginning with ‘Wolf Pack’ and saving their traditional opener ‘Wreckin’ Bar’ for much later on. It’s a bold move but the album track warmed up the crowd well. It combined up-tempo percussion from Pete Robertson with a playful interaction between Freddie Cowan’s picked lead guitar, Young’s echo-pedal infused chords and a driving bass line from Arni Hjorvar.
The morning-after tale of regret ‘Post Break Up Sex’, which Young called “hopefully, gloriously dumb” in a recent TV interview, was the second track. The audience sang along enthusiastically to its universal lyrics of shame and regret. The rest of the singles were placed towards the end of the set, allowing the crowd’s enthusiasm not to peak too soon and enabling the slightly slower numbers ‘All in White’, ‘Wetsuit’, ‘Under Your Thumb’ and ‘A Lack of Understanding’ to capture their attention. These album tracks stood up well in performance and it’s perhaps not surprising that an audience of fans already felt so familiar with this material that they continued to sing along.
The 90 second surf-pop calling card ‘Wreckin’ Bar’ saw Young abandon his guitar and mike stand to lean into the crowd. A mosh circle was established near the front, which continued through the Eddie Cochran-influenced current release ‘If You Wanna’. The run of singles concluded with ‘Blow It Up’: its ascending notes causing Young’s voice to rise to the point of breaking, giving an urgency to his performance but which is probably contributing to his current vocal health issues.
The Vaccines displayed their love of punk with a cover of The Standells’ ‘Good Guys (Don’t Wear White)’ (originally by Minor Threat). The infectious energy of this song spilled into the set closer, ‘Norgaard’, the band’s own brilliant pop punk volley. Young ended the evening with a stage dive and was raised aloft to crowd-surf his way out of the venue. As exits go it was pretty spectacular.
On the strength of this energetic performance The Vaccines’ return to Camden (they play Electric Ballroom on 7 and 8 April) is definitely worth catching.
Words and Photos: Amanda Penlington