Hamilton Leithauser, frontman of The Walkmen, oozes Americana romanticism with his floaty white shirt and irresistible East Coast drawl. There are still plenty of empty seats as his band takes up its instruments, but intrigue is rife among the growing throng of fans eager to release some energy.
Comparisons with fellow New Yorkers The Strokes - particularly during ‘The Rat’ - are understandable, yet the nostalgic hue to this set is more childhood sweetheart than one-night stand. ‘On The Water’ is lonesome in its eeriness, while there is a distinct Springsteen sheen to lyrics such as “Our gilded age may come and go / Our crooked dreams will always glow” on ‘Heaven’.
A hankering for something buried in "romantic tales of distant years" radiates a dusty desert highway vibe akin to the likes of The Gaslight Anthem and The Killers’ 'Sam’s Town'. Make no mistake, The Walkmen came first, but while their set showcases undeniable musicianship, it falls a little flat on a predominantly mid-teens crowd waiting impatiently in their Vaccines beanies.
Tonight the headline act has found itself in a rather tasty Beyoncé sandwich: she played here the night before and will play again the night after. In honour of Mrs. Carter, The Vaccines enter the stage to ‘Crazy In Love’ before making a rapid dash back to the rock‘n’roll side of the tracks with high-paced opener, ‘No Hope’.
This is volatile, high-voltage stuff relying upon solid old-fashioned guitar and wasting no time on electronic frills. Primal passion and sexual frenzy crackle to an electrifying degree on ‘Tiger Blood’; ‘Teenage Icon’ alludes to frontman Justin Young’s ironic disillusionment at being “nobody’s hero”; and ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ simmers with anticlimactic regret.
Young rocks the rugged homeless look, commanding the stage during snappy firecracker ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ with an effortless swagger rarely seen amid a flood of pretenders.
Playing London’s O2 Arena ain’t a bad dress rehearsal for supporting the inexhaustible Rolling Stones in Hyde Park this summer. "I can't believe we're playing the Millennium Dome!" cries Young. Whether or not they should be is a matter for debate, but one thing's for sure: they're certainly loud enough.
Even for a man of few words, there is a disappointing lack of on-stage banter, and a few too many pauses. Nevertheless, mass sing-along favourites ‘All In White’ and ‘I Always Knew’ deliver what the audience turned up for, before brand-new tune 'Melody Calling' delivers a slight diversion from their usual, rawer style.
Yanking the set into sixth gear at the opportune moment, the cheeky 'If You Wanna’ is confidently sexy despite lasting less than three minutes. ‘Family Friend’ encapsulates the end-of-summer blues while a cover of ‘Whole Wide World’ by Wreckless Eric reveals a softer centre to the band’s exterior bravado.
Throughout their exhilarating set, The Vaccines inject a traditional guitar-laden rock sound with an addictive shot of modern indie. As the encore draws to a close, withdrawal symptoms are already kicking in. Let’s hope the next fix comes soon.
Words: Jess Denham
Photos by Richard Gray
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