Vaselines offer less talk, more rock, at Webster Hall show in New York City

On their last trip to New York City, the Vaselines could do no wrong.

Their May 2009 reunion shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn came at the tail end of their first-ever U.S. tour, and amid the comic-gold stage banter of founders Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, the shambolic Scottish popsters played the bulk of their catalog, which then consisted of one just album and a couple of EPs.

Wednesday night at Webster Hall, their biggest New York venue yet, the Vaselines faced a tougher challenge. Last month, they released, ‘Sex With an X,’ their first new album in 20 years, and now that they’re no longer coasting on goodwill, their dynamic has changed. Kelly and McKee opted for a less-talk, more-rock approach, and while doing so allowed them to squeeze some 20 songs into their hour-long set, neither fans nor the band seemed to be having quite as much fun.

Of course, it was a Wednesday night, and MIA had likely lured the city’s more boisterous indie rockers to her gratis gig at Brooklyn Bowl. The room was at best three-quarters full, and those in attendance were welcoming but far from ecstatic.

McKee appeared happier than anyone to be there, and as she slipped into her usual role, that of the pretty girl with the sweet voice and dirty mouth, she marked a sharp contrast to her partner’s businesslike demeanor. Gone was that back-and-forth patter that made last year’s

shows a delight, and whenever McKee would a make sex joke about her band mates or the dudes at the merch booth, Kelly would just stand there, tuning his black hollow-body guitar or checking the set list to see what was next.

He didn’t even take the bait and when McKee talked about how she’d wanted to sell Vaselines underwear on the tour.

“Would you have bought them if we’d already worn them?” she asked the audience, eliciting the predictable affirmative cheer.

Luckily, Vaselines songs have built-in cheekiness, and McKee didn’t need to carry the comedic load. In addition to title-says-it-all tunes ‘Rory Rides Me Raw’ and ‘Monsterpussy’ and the trio of songs famously covered by Nirvana — ‘Molly’s Lips,’ ‘Son of a Gun,’ and ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam — the band fared well with new such new ones as ‘Mouth to Mouth’ and ‘I Hate the ’80s.’

On that last song, Kelly and McKee sang about how the titular decade “wasn’t all Duran Duran doo-ran doo-ran doo-ran.” That is to say it was about more than pure-pop silliness, and on this particular evening, a professionalism and musical proficiency took hold, the same was true of the Vaselines’ live show.

— Kenneth Partridge

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