Three albums deep, The Vaccines tone has changed dramatically from their scrappy, tongue-in-cheek indie-punk origins. When Justin Young penned the likes of ‘Norgaard’ and ‘If You Wanna’, it was a throwaway break from his folk career as Jay Jay Pistolet, and the tracks were largely in fun. Let’s face it, some of the early material is lyrically as dumb as it comes, but quite a change has come since. Gone are the 90 second songs that could have been recorded through layers of garage insulation, in their place subtler, slower and cleaner efforts. Live, at least, this is not a good thing.
Tonight, with the crowd clearly here for the headliners, Young can’t resist throwing in a smiling thumbs down in the direction of largely indifferent attendees between tracks. There’s a mellow, summer-sunshine vibe to most of the performance, heavy with singles but stuck on a slow burn that screams out for that scrappy edge. ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, ‘Teenage Icon’ and ‘Dream Lover’ plod along, before being given a pulverising energy shot in the last few minutes, with the punky slur of ‘Norgaard’ and ‘Wreckin’ Bar’ adding badly needed edge.
Their heart, though, doesn’t seem quite in it: no longer with the glorious indifference that fuelled the folk spin-off era, they’re not the vibrant, fun-filled rock band they started out as. What’s left – at least on a bad day – is a middle of the road identity crisis that doesn’t quite mesh.
Stereophonics are quite definitely the main event, though, and as the Welsh flags appear in the front row, Jones and co strut to centre stage with monster grins. 14 years ago, Stereophonics career peaked with a memorable Glastonbury headline set, and even in 2016, many of the same songs they played that night still dominate, and show a little of what took them to such a peak.
There’s something to be said for a band that can separate fan favourites from big chart singles, and err away from pimping a new album to excess. There’s no question the old songs go down best: a pacey, emotional rendition of ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ sets the tone, with slow moments like ‘I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio’ and ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ – offered back to back – propelled along by the more powerful ‘Vegas Two Times’ and ‘A Thousand Trees’.
There’s a break to celebrate drummer Jamie Morrison’s birthday, complete with crowd sing-along, while Jones confirms a new album post-tour – their tenth – without so much as a light break from the early-00s focus. The years have provided added depth, too: no need to trawl the back-catalogues and set-fill with weaker numbers; instead there’s a density of recognisability that gives a euphoric quality to a band still firing on all cylinders.
Jones and co’s fall from the heady days when Stereophonics, Travis and Feeder ruled the charts is one they’ve survived with a considerable fan base in tact, not least because of Jones’ distinctive, husky-edged vocal and a happy ability to play sets that feel like their own indian summer, doused with sentimentality.
There’s a lot of water under this bridge: the death of Stuart Cable, the years around Pull The Pin and Keep Calm and Carry On when it seemed everything good about the band had faded away with his departure, and the slow death of the entire indie-pop scene that propelled them in the first place.
The Jones brothers, though, have the heart to be one of the scene’s survivors. Refusing an encore – or rather announcing it without ever stepping off stage – ‘The Bartender and The Thief’ and ‘Dakota’ ring out proudly over Kilmainham. With such a depth of classics, tonight feels like 2002 again, but in all the right ways.
Stereophonics photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko.