SAN FRANCISCO — U.K. garage rockers the Vaccines are at their best as a runaway semi-truck barreling at full-speed with the brakes out. That’s what fans at Slim’s got Tuesday night: a blistering set of two- and three-minute songs that never overstayed their welcome. Touring in support of their fourth album, Combat Sports, the Vaccines played a solid mix of songs from their debut and new album, as well as a handful of tracks in between.
Frontman Justin Young, guitarist Freddie Cowan and bassist Árni Árnason, along with new drummer Yoann Intonti and keyboardist-guitarist Timothy Lanham, kicked things off with a blistering yet melodic “Nightclub,” one of five new cuts. That transitioned smoothly to the band’s first hit, the 81-second “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra).” Sophomore album Come of Age was represented by “Teenage Icon,” and their third album with “20/20,” which was the closest thing to AC/DC-esque classic rock the Vaccines ever wrote. Just like that, over about 12 minutes, the band covered a track from each of their albums, showing off four different styles—all of which were incredibly fast.
It wasn’t until the fifth track, “Dream Lover,” that Young, Cowan and their bandmates slowed the tempo—just enough to catch their breath. By this point they all had a nice lather going, and a couple of songs later, their shirts were soaked through.
“Wetsuit,” a fan favorite from The Vaccines’ 2011 debut, quickly turned into a barroom singalong. “Your Love Is My Favourite Band” was the the band’s glossiest tune of the night, with ’80s synths and a dance pop vibe. The diversion was quick, however, and the Vaccines were right back to garage band crunchiness with a sped-up version of “Post Break-Up Sex” and “Nørgaard,” both from the debut album.
At this point, Young said the band has a new single coming in a couple of weeks, but that he couldn’t sing, motioning to his neck. Young has suffered vocal chord injuries in the past and may have had some soreness in San Francisco. Instead, they played another new song—not on Combat Sports—”Let’s Jump Off the Top.” Young still belted through most of that one.
“No Hope” started with a bang and a clatter before snapping into focus, while “I Always Knew” had many in the near sold-out Slim’s waving their arms in unison. The concert peaked at penultimate song, “If You Wanna.”
“Does this mean we’re in love?” Young jokingly asked, responding to cheers. The Vaccines ended the main set with “I Can’t Quit” before returning for a three-song encore.”
Singer-songwriter Jesse Jo Stark opened the show with a roughly 40-minute blend of sleazy rock, sensuous pop and even a bit of throwback Brill Building pop.
Stark and her band opened with a few bars of standard “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” Stark exuded femme fatale with a breathy, smoky vocal delivery. “Wish I Was Dead” blended garage, surf rock and psychedelia into one treat. “Down The Drain” was slow and sexy, but with dark overtones highlighted by her guitarist. “Breakfast with Lou,” meanwhile, was indie rock filtered through the lens of ’50s doo-wop.
Between songs, Jesse Jo Stark hinted she’d spent some quality time at Slim’s before.
“I got in a lot of trouble here when I was a teenager,” she said.
Stark performed a shimmering version of 1970s standard “Bette Davis Eyes,” and finished off with “Fire Of Love,” which dripped with ’70s Los Angeles sleaze.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.