On a disgustingly wet and rainy Thursday evening, it seemed the local schools had been let out early enough that the prepubescent wannabe-indie youth could come and see The Vaccines. Waiting for the band to come on, I looked around and felt old and jaded, having seen the band one too many times to be pushing to the front pretending to look for my friend, and preferring to hang at the side. Firstly, though, the youth and their pleather jackets had to stand through the two support acts, The Big Moon and Palma Violets. The Big Moon, who I’d never heard of before, brought some needed badass female energy to the Pavilions, with a setlist a bit like the soundtrack to an indie flick from the ‘Strong Female Lead’ category on Netflix. They filled out the room a few times over with their alt-rock tunes, finishing with the excellent ‘Sucker’, which comes to life when performed. The girls themselves were also very effortlessly cool, and made me want to be in a girl band (although to be fair, most girl bands do).
I have to say, as good as The Big Moon were, I’ve never seen a support band warm up a crowd like Palma Violets did. By the second song, a large and vicious looking mosh pit had created a vortex in the middle of the crowd. People were flying, sweat was dripping, and young girls were grabbing their friends with a somewhat hysterical smile on their face, pulling them in, or heaving themselves out. The band themselves seemed to revel in this, as much as they could in their somewhat hazy state. I’m not suggesting that they were under any sort of influence (apart from the music, man) but lead singer Samuel Fryer’s eyes were barely open. It was all very Doherty. In fact, Palma Violet’s set up of two front men (Fryer and bassist ‘Chilli’ Jesson) drew inevitable comparisons with The Libertines, all the way down to Fryer’s questionable hat, although it was a farmer’s cap rather than a Doherty trilby. When they first started, I wasn’t quite convinced by the raucous rock moments and the blinding strobe lighting, but by the end of their set I was quite on board for the “Best time we’ve had in Plymouth.” They seem like the perfect band to see live, with their continued use of tempo changes drawing the crowd into a frenzied state of gig-euphoria then slowing them down again. They finished their set with a Christmas song which was dark and sinister and actually kind of great.
I’ve never seen a support band warm up a crowd like Palma Violets did
When The Vaccines came on, with lead singer Justin Young sauntering to the mic in his knee length coat and official band merch, they seemed somewhat too high profile for the relatively small Plymouth Pavilions. Maybe this is because I’ve only ever seen them performing to huge crowds at festivals, but the empty seats in the balcony and not completely full floor space didn’t seem to do them justice. Indeed, for the first few songs I wasn’t convinced; the vocals and instrumentation were flawless, but Justin seemed a little too nonchalant about the whole thing. That being said, his lazy swagger has now become his thing, and as the gig went on the crowd got on board with it more and more, from his loose grip on the microphone to the slow drop to his knees.
The setlist was a well balanced mix of tracks from all three of their albums, with the ones that really got the crowd going being exactly the ones you’d expect: ‘Wrecking Bar’, ‘Bad Mood’ and the “Old folk song called ‘Post Break Up Sex’,” for example. ‘Melody Calling’ was another crowd favourite, with Justin rocking out as much as one can on a bright white acoustic guitar. The band themselves seemed to enjoy the gig well enough, with Justin commenting on the fact that it had been “three years almost to the day since we played here, and you haven’t changed a bit.” In fact, the venue – while not impressing me too much – seemed to hold a special place in their hearts, Justin telling us during the encore “I have a picture on my phone of the first time we played here, I remember thinking ‘fuck that place is big’, and I can’t believe we’re playing here again.”
As my friend so aptly put it, it was like “NME’s wet dream”
Highlights of the gig were ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘All in White’, which were songs where the crowd took over. For most of the show, I felt like the audience (which was a strange mix of 16 and 60 year olds) were there, first and foremost, for the sake of being there, rather than the band. I may be wrong, but for me being in the middle meant the focus was largely on the less-than-spontaneous moshpit, to the point where no one was actually watching The Vaccines play. As my friend so aptly put it, it was like “NME’s wet dream”; she actually turned to me and whispered completely deadpan “I hate sweaty white boys.” That being said, on the songs I just mentioned, the focus was completely on the band, the audience singing every line along with them as they finished the first part of their set on All in White.
For the encore, it was a chance to change the pace a bit (something that had mainly been limited to the slower ‘(All Afternoon) In Love’, which featured heavy use of disco balls, and made me want to slow dance in a prom dress) as Justin performed a solo acoustic version of ‘No Hope’. As an artist who originally started as a folk singer (named JJ Pistolet) amongst the likes of Marcus Mumford and Laura Marling, this stripped back performance was really strong. Back with the rest of the band, the short burst of energy which is Blow It Up was voted for by the crowd (it was between that and We’re Happening), before the final – excellent – song ‘Norgaard’. This was the perfect way to finish the gig so that we could remember how far The Vaccines had come, as we left sweaty and disgusting, but highly satisfied.