Vaselines end U.S. tour with shambolic pop, witty banter, at Brooklyn show

The Vaselines look sweet and innocent, and to anyone who either doesn’t speak English or can’t follow a Scottish accent, they probably sound that way, too.

Wrapping a rare U.S. tour Monday night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, however, the legendary Glaswegian indie rockers demonstrated the wry, subversive sense of humor that, in addition to great melodies and a shambolic, wildly influential pop sensibility, has helped keep their songs in vogue for more than two decades.

“We’re milking it, aren’t we?” Frances McKee, one-half of the band’s lead songwriting duo, said early in the set, referring to the fact that, not counting compilations, such as the recently released Sub Pop retrospective “Enter the Vaselines,” the group’s discography comprises two EPs and a singleton full-length. She may have a point, but here are four reasons why Monday’s gig was worth the trek to Brooklyn.

1. The banter: McKee and partner Eugene Kelly spent the evening riffing off of one another and members of the audience. When a goofy heckler yelled, “Who are you guys opening for?” for instance, Kelly didn’t blink. “Your mother,” he said, completely deadpan. Later, on a gorgeous “Slushy,” he was so busy calling McKee a crab — an exchange prompted by another stupid audience question, “What’s your sign?” — that he missed his cue to start singing.

2. However old, the old songs: “I hope they do all those Nirvana covers,” one clever fan said before the show, well aware, one hopes, that super-fan Kurt Cobain and his band mates recorded versions of three Vaselines tunes. The group did all three — “Son of a Gun,” “Molly’s Lips,” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” — as well as its other classics, songs whose scruffy, jangling guitars and sunny-day harmonies mask curse words and lyrics about sex.

3. However new, the new tunes: Wary of being more than a nostalgia act, Kelly and McKee offered up a couple of new songs. One, a characteristically chipper pop number with a driving beat, went, “You’ve got nothing to say, but you say it anyway.”

4. A fine opener: Former Moldy Peach Adam Green kicked things off with an energetic half-hour of off-kilter bar-band rock. He sang and mugged like a precocious toddler, and if a young Jonathan Richman had gotten his wish and become Velvets-era Lou Reed, he’d have written songs like “Do Blow With Me” and Green’s closing ode to Jessica Simpson.

LISTEN
The Vaselines: Son of a Gun mp3

— Text and photo by Kenneth Partridge

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