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The Vaselines at Maxwell’s (Hoboken) and Southpaw (Brooklyn)

Posted by on Jul 12, 2008 in Music | 0 comments

Not their first reunion, but these two shows were The Vaselines’ U.S. debut before heading to Seattle for this sellout record label’s anniversary show.

Maxwell’s

The Hoboken show, Wednesday, July 9, was nearly derailed.  Literally.  The PATH train that connects Hoboken to Manhattan went out of service at 6PM.  Anyone coming from New York who wanted to see the show had to take a PATH train to some other destination in Jersey and then get to Hoboken via the light rail system.  Simple enough for a local.  But for a native New Yorker?  It also didn’t help that light rail announcements of an approaching train didn’t simply say “Hoboken.”  They were more along the lines of “Second Street and Marshall.”  Where the hell is that? I just Googled it and got some place in Marshall, Ill.

Maxwell’s remains a wonderful place to see a show in an intimate setting.  In fact, 20 years ago (damn!) I saw Nirvana play Maxwell’s tiny stage opening for Tad.  Bleach, Nirvana’s first album, had come out already, but Tad’s God’s Balls was also out and seemed to be getting more play. At this time in their native Scotland, The Vaselines were on their last legs and broke up shortly after releasing their only LP, Dum-Dum. Of course, years later, Nirvana covering three Vaselines songs are what led to Sub Pop compiling The Way of the Vaselines, a complete anthology, in 1992. It also helped that Kurt Cobain endlessly heaped praise on the duo, Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly, as songwriters; I mean, Christ, he named his kid after McKee!

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 The Indelicates actually look good here.

Opening at Maxwell’s were The Indelicates from the U.K. Hard to say what went wrong. Maybe their earnest insistence for the crowd to clap along in complicated rhythm (c’mon, they only clap for Bruce in Jersey).  Maybe it was their too-dry sense of humor (“This next song is about blowjobs.”). Maybe it was the sophisticated keyboard playing.  Yeah, that was it.  Always blame the keyboards.

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The Vaselines 2008! L-R: Bobby Kildea, Frances McKee, Eugene Kelly, Richard Colburn. Out of frame: Stevie Jackson.

“Hey, how ya doing?” Kelly announced at the top. “America, you sexy bitch. We made it, eventually. We’re called the Vaselines.”  Then the show was off with “Son of a Gun” and its marching beat. It was apparent immediately that Eugene’s and Frances’ vocals hadn’t changed one iota in 20 years.  Eugene still sounded somewhat stern and slightly jaded. Frances sings like the girl who gets to do the solos during Carpenters’ songs in fourth grade: wonderfully innocent, wonderfully untrained. On the musical side, the Vaselines had ringers in the guise of 3/7ths of Belle and Sebastian’s current lineup. Bobby Kildea on bass, Richard Colburn on drums and Stevie Jackson, who was most comfortable out of sight, on guitar. Jackson added great leads, even giving “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” an unexpected country/western feel, but how could the singer/songwriter of standout B&S tracks such as “The Wrong Girl” and “To Be Myself Completely” have his vocal contribution reduced to meowing on the chorus to the Vaselines’ “Monsterpuss”? Aw, who am I kidding. I’d meow on all fours to be in that band.

Frances said rumors that “Molly’s Lips” was about oral sex were false because “we didn’t know what oral sex was when we wrote this song. . .and some of us still don’t know.”  “I do,” countered Eugene, “Frances told me all about it. Sounds like great fun. We’re gonna try it afterwards.”  Some more joking led to a false start with Frances gasping, “I can’t. . .”

If you’re not familiar with the layout of Maxwell’s, the stage is at a dead end in the room while the dressing rooms are downstairs. Musicians need to walk through the crowd to get between the two. Most bands don’t bother to step off the stage after the regular set and merely take a breather before launching into the encore. The Vaselines chose this route, with Eugene detailing a fantasy of being brought to orgasm by Bon Jovi.  When you conjure up that name, what else can you play except “You Think You’re a Man” for the encore?  They closed out the night with “Dum-Dum.”

Southpaw

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I liked them at first. . .

Local band the Crystal Stilts came out strong with cavernous vocals, a thundering stand-up drum kit and a bass sound that threatened to swallow the entire city. A few songs in, they all started sounding the same. Not the fault of the band. The mix was terrible with the rhythm section overpowering the guitar and drowning out the keyboards completely.  But still, that first song was great and certainly better than anything the Indelicates had done the night before.

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Encore?

Uh, oh, it’s the Indelicates again!  The Brooklyn crowd flat out dissed them. The noise at the bar was audible through nearly every song. When they started with the handclaps again, I was like, whoa, you’ve just unleashed a weapon of mass alienation!

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It’s Stevie Jackson all the way to the right!

Less joking around this night in this larger venue.  I preferred the Maxwell’s show. I think Frances and Eugene did, too, judging by the number of references they made to onstage remarks at Maxwell’s.  “You’re as young as the audience is,” Frances said at one point.  “Yeah,” muttered Eugene, “I feel about 45.”  I’d say he was about 10 years too high. No surprises song-wise for those who attended the Maxwell’s show, right down to the encore.  The entire show was a bit like an extended encore of the previous night. Still, every moment is precious.  Who knows when they’ll be back, if ever?

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