3rd April | O2 Academy
Photos: Paul Lippiatt
The soundtrack from The Greatest Showman, the film about the life of circus owner, P.T. Barnum has recently been enjoying an absurdly-long eleven weeks at the top of the UK album charts. At the O2 Academy on Tuesday night, on the opening date of their first UK tour in three years, The Vaccines‘ frontman, Justin Young seemed determined to stake the band’s claim for the number one position with their new album, Combat Sports. He also staked his own claim as a truly great showman, something achieved with a storming set, mixing live debuts with infectious classics.
Opening were the ever-exceptional Dream Wife, who paraded hits from their recent eponymous debut album. They proved why, of the hundreds of reviews and articles written about them in the past year, it is near impossible to locate even an hint of negative analysis. Nearly all of the sold-out crowd had gathered early to catch a glimpse of one of the country’s finest emerging bands.
The trio frantically blasted through a set littered with powerful songs such as ‘Fire’ and ‘Somebody’. Even though they didn’t engage in their now renowned tradition of inviting all the female audience members to the front in a protest against sexual harassment at gigs before centrepiece ‘Fuck U Up’, the song and band remained equally empowering and exquisite.
Appearing on stage, against a backdrop of a gold curtain and gaudy glitter ball and soundtracked by ‘Waterloo’, it was instantly apparent that the Vaccines were resolved to put on a spectacle. Furiously pumping his fists to whip the crowd into a frenzy, Young hurtled into recent single, ‘Nightclub’, a song which perfectly marries its lyrical content with its sonic unpredictability, losing his sunglasses in the process. Another new number, ‘Surfing in the Sky’, fitted effortlessly into the set, as if the band had been playing it for years, before the fast and furious ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ inspired the audience into a fervour before returning to a state of sedated awe, through the swaggering seduction of ‘Dream Lover’ and ‘Wetsuit’.
The quintet then charmed those present with the romantic segment of their set. First came the sultry ‘Melody Calling’ and then the irresistible ‘Your Love is my Favourite Band’, perhaps the finest tune from their new album. This preceded the undoubted highlight of the set, the frantic ‘Norgaard’, a song during which it is near impossible to retain control of your limbs.
By this point, it was already clear that the London-based group had lost neither the chemistry between themselves nor with their audience through their prolonged absence, despite experiencing a line-up change in the meantime. No more was this visible than through the adoring sing-along to the euphoric ‘I Always Knew’, juxtaposed with the gloriously unrefined ‘If You Wanna’, inspiring numerous punters to try and reach the stage.
For the encore, Young dropped to his knees for the emotional ballad, ‘Young American’, before being rejoined by the rest of the band for Combat Sports opener, ‘Put it on a T-Shirt’, and beautifully-crafted crowd favourite ‘All in White’, a perfect example of deploying calm after the storm. Signing merch for fans in the lobby afterwards, it’s evident that despite their return to superstardom and ambitions for a second number one album, the Vaccines are very much a band powered by the fans, for the fans, and we’re all the better for it.