The Vaccines @ O2 Academy Oxford – 29/11/11

The Vaccines are a peculiarly successful British band who have made it their mission to bring authentic indie rock to the charts, with surprising success. My cynicism about their ambition and their overall sound means I approach seeing the Vaccines live with some trepidation, but they prove themselves to be an enjoyable live spectacle.

Minneapolis garage punkers Howler are first on, and their rowdy, ramshackle pop music illicits an enthusiastic response from the young, fresh faced crowd. Howler’s collage of old fashioned influences, from sugar coated 60s pop, to washy shoegaze and noise rock, is possibly lost on much of the young crowd of indie rock fans, but gives their care free and throw away sound some added depth and character. In many ways Howler are the perfect rock ‘n roll band; their music is snotty and performed with the abandon and danger of the most exciting punk music, and they look like a real old fashioned band, with the black leather jackets, floppy fringes and tight trousers made popular by fellow Rough Trade signing The Strokes. Occasionally their music suffers from being a little too nostalgic and old fashioned, but the catchy simplicity of their songs means that it never grates, and it’s hard to deny than an irresistible pop buried under noisy guitars and attitude is a winning formula.

Sunderland’s Frankie and The Heartstrings are next and their melodramatic pop sound is a little more English and traditional than Howler’s noise rock or The Vaccines straightforward indie rock. Frankie Francis is a classic frontman in the vein of Morrissey, Edwyn Collins and Jarvis Cocker, and commands the stage with the camp ostentatiousness of all of those artists. Frankie and the Heartstrings also owes a great deal to all of those bands sonically, especially Edwyn Collin’s and Orange Juice’s choppy, stuttering guitars and sweeping vocals (Edwyn Collins even produced their debut album Hunger). Despite the name, Frankie and the Heartstrings are clearly a very democratic union, with all of the Heartstrings using their respective instruments to service the pop hooks in the songs, as opposed to showboating or distracting from the lyrics. The crowd, many of whom are clearly familiar with the Heartstring’s output, love the set and Frankie’s Sunderland charm and natural rapport with the audience seemed to win over many new fans.

The Vaccines take to the stage with no introduction and play loud and fast. Their set covers almost all of their debut album, and audience interaction and banter is kept to a minimum. Sonically, their performance is fairly faultless and they sound like a louder, more aggressive version of the recorded Vaccines. Unlike the endearing messiness of Howler or the dramatic flare of Frankie and the Heartstrings, The Vaccines are not natural showmen; their onstage movement is limited, and they power through their songs in the most straightforward way possible.

Occasionally this means the songs blend together and become indistinguishable, and the Vaccines specific aesthetic becomes problem. While the band themselves may aspire to reinvigorate British music by getting some old fashioned indie music in the charts, but their blend of snarling Britpop and American hardcore bands like Minor Threat often simply comes out sounding a little too close to the British indie rock that has already been prominent in the charts since the early Noughties, and their ambition often seems a little lost on the crowd of British teens, probably familiar with the landfill indie the Vaccines are often unfavorably compared to. However their set is undeniably enjoyable and the crowd response is overwhelmingly enthusiastic. With characteristic lack of aplomb they return to the stage for a brief encore, and say goodbye.