The gig: The Vaselines
Where: The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON, Canada
When: 30 October, 2010
In one word: Dinger
Halloween is a really big deal in North America – and it’s as much as a party time for the adults as it is ‘trick or treat’ time for the kids who go out guising. In Toronto it’s one of the biggest party weekends of the year, with clubs and bars across the city holding their own Halloween themed parties, and countless more house parties. Halloween also makes for some unique gigs. I discovered this last year when I experienced my first Halloween in Toronto, which included a memorable gig by Fucked Up in which I found myself bouncing around Sneaky Dee’s with a rope noose around my neck, with the other end being held by Sin City’s Miho. That’s the kind of madness that you can get away with on Halloween. Somewhat unfortunately, Halloween this year happened a night earlier with Saturday 30 October becoming the designated party night, minimizing the hangovers for when everyone returns to their mundane Monday morning routines on 1 November. Boo. With so much happening, it was hard to decide where to be on a Saturday night but in the end I found myself giving in again to the undying pull of live music: the chance to see The Vaselines was just too exciting to turn down.
This gig was originally slated to feature support from the Dum Dum Girls but sadly the group were forced to cancel due to a family emergency. The announcement by the Dum Dum Girls via Twitter on 25 October read: “SAD & SORRY TO CANCEL OUR UPCOMING SHOWS, & CAUSE CROCODILES TO DO THE SAME. DEE DEE NEEDS TO BE HOME WITH HER FAMILY AT THIS TIME. XOXO”
New York duo Schwervon were called up as replacements for the remainder of The Vaselines tour, and at the Horseshoe they proved themselves to be worthy and entertaining openers. Telling the audience that they are a couple, “Sorry to disappoint all the ladies,” ‘Major’ Matt Roth (guitar/vocals) and his partner in rhyme (ouch) Nan Turner (drums/vocals) managed to charm the proverbial pants off of an enthusiastic Toronto crowd.
Schwervon share some similar qualities with The Vaselines, being a boy-girl duo with that all too rare element of twee and smutty humour that makes their music endearing and smile-inducing. Perhaps the best example of this came in the latter half of their set with “Dinner”, which is a simple and lighthearted song with amusing lines like, “Sex on the table is not very stable, so let’s make dinner tonight.” When not singing PG-13 rated songs about sex, Schwervon make some commentary about the world they live in, sharing vocal duties while their electric guitar and drums deliver the kind of DIY pop rock that I like to roll to. Lyrics like “You spend more than you can afford, you’ve got the new blah-blah and you’re bored” (“Wake and Bomb”) hit home with me, as I’m sure they did with anyone else who finds themselves living the minimalist, skint life while wondering how the masses feel so compelled to buy their next toy. (iPad users, that was your cue to stop reading.) Even more memorable and relatable to an audience of gig-going indie music lovers is “Balloon” – total earworm! I loved this tune from first listen. The harmonized vocals, those fun lyrics and that catchy little beat combine to make a song which is the ideal introduction to this band and the lighthearted social commentaries that they make through their music. Tune! [Check out the video for “Balloon”, embedded below this review.]
I found myself enthused for every second of Schwervon’s set. They create simple and honest indie pop, and in this digital age it’s this kind of honesty and simplicity that cuts through the bullshit to make them stand out. It’s refreshing to hear a band who have their eyes open to the world and who manage to use their music as a platform to sing about it. Because, after all, isn’t that the point of making a band in the first place? Schwervon left the stage to warm applause from a smiling crowd.
And so to the Vaselines, with the Glasgow band playing the penultimate night of their North America tour. Sometime after 11pm, Eugene Kelly and Francis McGhee came on stage with their guitars, flanked by a guitarist, bassist and drummer. The Vaselines held an amused and entertained audience throughout, with Eugene and Frances exchanging banter in their Glaswegian brogue. Some of the patter may have been lost on the crowd but Eugene’s erection joke while referencing the retro UK toy Meccano was probably the most obscure of it all – I’m sure everyone else knew or got the gist of words like ‘wank’ and ‘shagging’. Members of the audience chimed in to join in the banter and to let their affections for the band be known. There was a great atmosphere, though as a girl near me at the front of the stage had pointed out, the majority of the crowd were dressed without any Halloween garb… something I had somehow failed to notice and I quickly became re-obvlious to the fact that my skin was green as I became immersed in the gig.
This was my first time seeing The Vaselines live. We both come from Scotland but as a teenager I got into the Vaselines the same way that most people did – thanks to Nirvana. The songs made famous by Nirvana all enjoyed big responses from the crowd, my favourite moment being the singalong to “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”. With the benefit of having a full band, everything sounded full and tight. Of the new material from this year’s new album Sex With An X the choice song was “The Devil Inside Me” which has a broody, melancholy cool sound reminiscent of B.R.M.C. and at the same time has perhaps the heaviest subject matter of any Vaselines song, with lyrics which seem to be about domestic violence (including lyrics like “you made me push you against the wall”).
Next to Bleach, Incesticide is my favourite Nirvana record and it contains two of the three Vaselines’ covers that Nirvana did to help The Vaselines become known around the world. Ten years ago Nirvana’s covers of “Son Of A Gun” and “Molly’s Lips” brought the music of the Vaselines to my bedroom in a damp old farmhouse up on a hill in the Highlands of Scotland. I still listen to Nirvana, and Way To The Vaselines: A Complete History is a much played album in my collection. Everyone tonight at the audience had their own story and connection to the band but the unanimous feeling of giddy joy could best be summed up with the following lyrics, as the Vaselines took their sound from our collective bedrooms to the stage:
The sun shines in my bedroom, when you play
And the rain it always starts, when you go away.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
I Hate The 80’s
The Day I Was A Horse
Sex With An X
Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam
The Devil Inside Me
Son of a Gun
Such a Fool
Rory Rides Me Raw
Let’s Get Ugly
Dying For It
You Think You’re A Man
and one other
Pictures of The Vaselines at Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
Music video for “Balloon” by Schwervon