Seaside shows generally fall into two categories: the last outpost for ‘Aren’t they dead yet?’ comics like Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown and Jim Davidson, and flatulent tribute shows to the definitely dead musical greats of yesteryear. All of which might initially make The Vaccines’ mini tour of the Kent coast – after tonight’s Margate gig they’ll play in Folkestone on Tuesday, sandwiched between shows exhuming hits by Meatloaf and The Beatles – seem an odd bit of scheduling for a band who’ve still got most, if not all, of their own hair and teeth.
Until that is, you realise they’re genuinely starting to look and feel like the first heritage act of the Inbetweeners era of guitar music, a small circle of bands far too uncool to be considered part of the indie-sleaze set.
Underlining that point, tonight’s frontman Justin Hayward-Young introduces his band like a seasoned end-of-the-pier entertainer (“Hello Margate, I’d like you to cast your minds back to 1973,” he inexplicably announces) before reminiscing about their last trip to Thanet a decade ago like a confused pensioner.
Along with their ‘Live and Let Die’ walk-on music and Justin’s drunk-uncle-at-a wedding stage moves – he genuinely doesn’t seem to know what to do with his arms when he’s sans guitar – it all adds up to a band who look and sound seriously out of step with the current indie generation, particularly in a week where The Last Dinner Party have taken genre-fluidity to the top of the charts.
Of course, this was always the risk for an outfit touted as a ‘British Strokes’ – as much due to their parents’ reputed bank balances as their new wave stylings – when they emerged in 2011. The kings of New York were themselves a noughties nod to ‘70s punks like Television and The Ramones, leaving The Vaccines as essentially a full-colour version of a monochrome photocopy.
To be fair to them, though, they’ve largely shaken off the comparisons to Julian Casablancas and co. over the course of six Top 5-charting albums, with the prominence of pop in their sound growing in correlation with the size of Justin’s A-list contact book (he’s written songs for members of One Direction and James Blunt on the side, among others).
Set opener ‘Love To Walk Away’ is a case in point, its angular guitars giving way to the sort of soaring chorus you can imagine Harry Styles paying top whack for. It’s the first of half a dozen tracks plucked from the new LP Pick-Up Full of Pink Carnations, which benefit from being smattered across the setlist, given that the principal issue cited with the record is many of its middle-eights are utterly interchangeable. That’s not to say all the new material is ‘let’s nip to the bar for this one’ fodder, though.
On ‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Heartbreak Kid’, bubblegum hooks give way to the sort of blue-collar bombast that Bruce Springsteen – or at least one of his tribute acts, called something like The Bootleg Boss – would be proud of.
Befitting a band staring down the barrel of their food festival bookings phase, a third of the setlist comes from The Vaccines’ 2011 debut and high watermark What Did You Expect From The Vaccines. ‘Wetsuit’ inspires the loudest singalong of the night, whilst ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ and ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ sound as vital now as 15 years ago. ‘All In White’ sounds custom-built for the stadiums the band have never quite made it to, underlining just how musically tight the group is even after the departure of founding guitarist Freddie Cowan last year.
The tunes might be timeless, but lyrics about being “teenage icons” definitely aren’t, though. As a case in point: ‘All My Friends Are Falling In Love’ is great shout-along indie-pop, but shouldn’t men of their age be singing about all their friends getting divorced rather than a chorus that sounds like a soundtrack to one of those BBC Three shows where parents hide in the bushes during their kids’ first foreign holidays with their mates?
Meanwhile, even the band themselves seem wary of ‘Nørgaard’, reluctantly tacked onto the end of the set after repeated requests from fans in the front row. Presumably, realising a bloke in his mid-30s can no longer sing about a 17-year-old girl who “don’t wanna go steady” without ending up on some sort of police watch list, Justin wisely sprints off stage and leaves his bandmates to conclude a breakneck instrumental.
Ultimately, and as Chubby and Jimmy know all too well, that’s the name of the game for heritage acts, pressured to keep their material frozen in time as the world changes around them.
So yes, those lyrics will only sound even weirder when The Vaccines hit Blackpool, Scarborough and Eastbourne on a triple header tour with The Wombats and Two Door Cinema Club in 2050…