Last Night: The Vaselines at Bimbo's
By Wade Grubbs
Better than: Nirvana playing the Vaselines' songs. Really.
The Vaselines played their first-ever San Francisco gig Monday night at a packed Bimbo's. Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee formed the band in Glasgow in 1986 as part of the music scene that spawned the Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, and BMX Bandits among others. Their tuneful sound and flirty lyrics earned them a small but loyal following, and they disbanded musically and romantically in 1990.
Their songs were then exposed to a massive audience when Nirvana covered "Molly's Lips," "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," and "Son of a Gun." Kurt Cobain often discussed his great affection for the band, which helped propel them to cult status. Reunited last year, the band is touring in support of Enter The Vaselines , a two-CD set of all of their recordings plus remixes and demos.
Opening the show were the Dutchess & the Duke, a lo-fi quartet from Seattle who delivered a set of tuneful, country-tinged songs featuring two- and three-part harmonies and one of the most unusual line-ups I've ever seen on a stage: two guitarists and two tambourine players. I think it was the twin-tambourine approach that made me imagine the Velvet Underground playing at a county fair.
When the Vaselines came on stage, they seemed genuinely surprised and grateful to be met with vocal enthusiasm by a full house. The crowd was a healthy mix of people who might not have been born when the band formed and those old enough to experience punk's first wave firsthand.
The Vaselines opened with a version of
"Molly's Lips" "Son of a Gun" that surprised many in the audience--the song had a tight, muscular rock sound the band then employed throughout the show. Kelly and McKee lead the band--augmented by drummer Michael McGaughrin of 1990s, and bassist Bob Kildea, and guitarist Stevie Jackson (Belle and Sebastian)-- through a set featuring almost all of their recorded material. This was easily done, as the Vaselines have never exactly worn out a recording studio in their brief existence.
Another unexpected aspect of the performance: Kelly and McKee's interactions were hilarious and randy, and their rapport with the audience came easily. The former couple had no trouble giving each other jibes about sex, prison, musical incompetence, and whatever else seemed to come to mind. One exchange went roughly like this:
Kelly: Frances, what are some of your beauty secrets?
McKee: Oh, I just take the semen of young boys and rub some on my cheeks.
I don't know if the pair have a future in stand-up, but there was no shortage of laughs during their performance.
The Vaselines played two new songs, giving hope that perhaps they will once again be an ongoing project, one that doesn't leave a 20-year gap between recordings.