Photos by Kirstie Shanley for Transmission.
It's rather remarkable that a fairly obscure Scottish indie-pop band from the 1980s is touring the US for the first time ever in 2009 and in front of many hundreds of people in each city. But that's what happens to artists who icons praise. While that's not to imply that the adoration for the Vaselines wasn't warranted, it is somewhat difficult to fathom their existing popularity based solely on the two EPs and one full-length that they did release. (Luckily, they haven't strayed far back into obscurity due to as many releases after breaking up as while they were a band.)
So what exactly have showgoers missed out on for 20 years? Well, it's difficult to say because clearly a band that hasn't been on stage for so long will be rusty. And from the beginning of the evening, the backing band appeared more like the stars, at least when there was music playing. The 1990s' drummer Michael McGaughrin stole the show immediately once the band launched into "Son of a Gun." The blistering and repetitive beat lent itself toward him to be far and away the most animated person on stage. And occasionally, especially during "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam", Stevie Jackson injected very Belle & Sebastian-like licks. Bob Kildea, who's done time in bands with both Jackson and McGaughrin, was simply solid on bass.
But people were there to see Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly. Both played guitar and sang. Through most of the set, they seemed somewhat indifferent to performing and instead had their best moments when bantering between songs. While Kelly spent eons tuning, the two key members chatted with and mocked each other as if it were practice. It was fun for a while, but when that tedium wore out its welcome, the crowd made their feelings known with "Play like you mean it!" and "Sing a song!" coming from the floor. New songs did little to calm the natives. The two they played were pretty low-key and uninspiring, especially with one's droning chorus "We got nothing to say but we're saying it anyway" being far too accurate.
Once they got back to songs from the first time they were a band, things improved. Their obsessions with sex and religion came to the forefront with "Teenage Superstar", "Sex Sux", and "Dying For It." Mixed among those was perhaps the most innocent Vaselines song, "Slushy." By the fake encore, they actually sounded enthusiastic to be playing music. The Vaselines are not critical in 2009, but they can put on a fun show with some songs that shouldn't be forgotten about.
See more pictures by Kirstie Shanley from the show, including photos of The 1900s at the Gapers Block: Transmission Flickr page.