Concert Review: The Vaccines, DIIV and San Cisco @ Terminal 5: 1/31/2013
Yeaaaahhhhh!!! Now that’s how you put on a rock show! The Vaccines – and their two supporting acts, San Cisco (who I hadn’t head of before) and DIIV (who I definitely have) – filled Terminal 5, both in terms of the crowd and the noise level, and made sure we all had a good time Thursday night.
First up was San Cisco, a young Australian indie-pop band that, very impressively, was not overwhelmed by the scene. The floor was surprisingly crowded for an opening-band-to-the-opening-band, especially one that came on fairly early (8pm sharp – I arrived around 8:15 myself). The lead, singer/guitarist Jordi Davieson, seems to have “it”, the intangible qualities of a rock band front man. He clearly knew how to get the crowd on his side. Meanwhile, the star of the set may have been charming female drummer Scarlett Stevens. Female drummers are rare, and Stevens is particularly compelling and she comes across as sweet, yet she has the power to sing (she is secondary vocals on most songs) and yell (when she implored the crowd to “Freak Out”, she yelled it, and so did they). The crowd was legitimately clapping and cheering throughout – it was as excited as I’ve seen a NYC crowd get for a no-name opening band in as long as I can remember. I look forward to seeing this group headline a small gig in a place like Mercury Lounge or maybe even Bowery Ballroom sometime soon. I’d pay a few $$ for that.
Next up was DIIV, the Brooklyn-based indie rock band started by the very talented Z. Cole Smith. Smith’s love for Kurt Cobain is well-known (the band is named after the Nirvana song “Dive” – it’s pronounced that way) and on this night it really showed. Until Thursday night, Kurt is the last person I’d ever seen wearing loose-fitting red pants and a shirt buttoned up to his neck. It’s probably only a matter of time until Courtney Love sues Smith for trademark infringement. DIIV’s sound was also very reminiscent of early ‘90s Seattle, although I wouldn’t classify it as grunge by any means. What I mean to say is that DIIV sounds like a band that built on the Seattle ‘90s sound and adapted it for 2013, sort of an indie-electronic-distortion-grunge-rock band. I suppose that if Mudhoney and Radiohead had a child in 1993, it would have grown up to be DIIV. But I digress. For some reason unknown to me, despite putting on a good show and getting a good lead-in from San Cisco, DIIV did not resonate at Terminal 5. I could speculate as to why – wrong crowd? wrong venue? wrong city? wrong decade? – but the bottom line is that the crowd was visibly bored until the last song or two of the 40 minute set. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a really good live grunge-like band flop at Terminal 5 opening for a more mainstream band. In October I saw the Cloud Nothings follow Atlas Genius and open for Silversun Pickups in a performance that was equally loud, and get a crowd reception that was equally quiet. What I find somewhat shocking is that just a few weeks ago I saw DIIV perform at Brooklyn Bowl for a group of toddlers and the toddlers loved it! That said, I don’t think it’s fair to put all of the blame on the crowd. When the band played its last song, the crowd stopped chatting and resting their collective heads in their hands and got pumped. You could see that if given the right ammunition, this crowd could rock (and we’d later see that throughout the Vaccines show). DIIV was aggressively loud throughout their set, but it felt like a controlled aggression until the very end, when they finally let loose. They probably believed going in that had they been their unrestrained selves, i.e. a full on rock band that just doesn’t give a sh*t, they may have lost some of the crowd. Unfortunately, there were very few left to lose and a lot to be gained that were left on the table.
After a too-long break, out came the Vaccines. And boy did they ever storm the stage. The band opened with “No Hope” followed by “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” an incredibly uplifting opening 1-2 punch that established the tone for the rest of the night. I remember first listening to the Vaccines’ debut album What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? in the summer of 2011 and thinking two things: (1) this is the best new band I’ve heard so far this year and (2) I can’t wait to see these guys live to see if they can live up to the music on the album. Right away I bought tickets for their Brooklyn show scheduled for that October, only to have the show canceled (along with the rest of their fall tour) with lead singer Justin Young going in for throat surgery for the 3rd time (all in 2011). It seemed then that maybe Young’s throat couldn’t keep up with the power of his songs. Young recovered fully though and in April 2012 I saw the Vaccines live for the first time at Webster Hall. At some point during this show I went from a fan of the band to a die-hard devotee, especially of Young. His on-stage charisma was beyond all reasonable expectation. I wrote earlier that San Cisco lead singer/guitarist Jordi Davieson seems to have “it”, and that Z. Cole Smith resembles a young Kurt Cobain; well no lead in recent memory has more exemplified the “it” factor than Justin Young. The crowd in Webster Hall rocked that April night, and again the next time I saw the Vaccines live, in Bowery Ballroom in September. That set was probably too short, and featured many of the songs that would be on Come of Age, their second album that wouldn’t be for another month in the U.S. Nevertheless I walked away excited for the new album, rather than disappointed in the show, as did most of the crowd.
Thursday night in Terminal 5 it all came together. The band absolutely blew the doors off in playing all of their hits off of both albums. The fourth song of the set was the normally slow and mellow “A Lack of Understanding,” but the band upped the pace and volume, pushing the hard-rocking crowd. They then followed that up with “Wetsuit” (my favorite song off of album 1) and “Teenage Icon” (my favorite song off of album 2); I could have gone home a happy man after only six songs. Young was climbing all over the stage, looking like a man confident in everything he does. With his new fully-bearded look he resembles Dave Grohl or, perhaps more accurately, Jason Lee’s character in the movie Almost Famous. Young looks and behaves like the prototypical front man, drawing everyone in the crowd into his little circle so that while we’re all jumping and singing, we’re all also focused solely on him. More hits followed … the concert never let up for a single moment … and the Vaccines played us off with their original hit, “If You Wanna.” After a very short break they came back and played “Wolf Pack,” “Bad Mood” (which is an unreleased song due in a month so – the only unreleased song they played all night) and finally “Norgaard” which is always their closer (rightfully so).
In less than 12 months I’ve now seen the Vaccines play live 3 times. As I’ve mentioned before, I hardly ever see one band that many times, especially over such a short period of time. Each time though I’ve walked away wanting to see them again, as soon as possible. Are they currently my favorite band? I’m not sure. But I can’t say for sure that they’re not currently my favorite band, which means something. What I can say for sure is that the Vaccines – and especially Young – are going to be huge. Unlike DIIV – an indie-critic-favorite with a cult following that has possibly peaked with its first album – I’m confident that we’ll be seeing the Vaccines selling out larger and larger arenas for years to come.
One last note: There are some really amazing photos of photos of this show that can be found here (courtesy of Sean O’Kane), here (courtesy of Deborah Lowery) and here (this one has DIIV too, courtesy of Jonathan McPhail).
 At one point he told the crowd “This song is called ‘no friends.’ It’s about not having any friends. So maybe we can hang out after the show.”
 Smith also has a weird habit of narrating the entire set very matter-of-factly. For example, he said “we are DIIV” or “this one is off of our record” more times than I can count, and at one point said, “We have two more songs; this is one of them.” When the set concluded, Smith took the microphone one last time and said “Now we’re gonna pack up our stuff.” I didn’t find this to be a positive or a negative – it was quirky, but not in a very endearing way – but it was so odd that I didn’t want to leave it out of my review.
 It’s going to take a lot to displace the National.