Live Review: The Vines

2 November 2016 | 4:44 pm | Madison Thomas

"It's The Vines, but with the corners knocked off."

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Remember the season of the "The" bands? The White Stripes, The Hives, The Strokes, you couldn't move for all the "The" bands. Australia's own contribution, The Vines, exploded - less horny than The Strokes, brattier than The White Stripes and as messy as The Hives were immaculate. The Vines were heard everywhere from dive bars to car commercials, yet they gradually seemed to unravel, losing band members and releasing material that divided both fans and critics. The band's heartbeat has always been pointy-haired, bleary-eyed frontman Craig Nicholls, and tonight he is the band's only original member.

The room is packed and beers perspire in sweaty hands while the clock ticks closer to 10pm. The curtains draw back and there they are: The Vines, with Nicholls dragging on a cigarette. Damn those rockstars and their ability to openly flout smoking laws! Immediately, something just seems off. A middle-of-the road opener is backed up by the title track from their debut album Highly Evolved, a song that would usually rip the roof off, yet tonight seems lethargic. It's The Vines, but with the corners knocked off.

Gimme Love and Metal Zone are a step in the right direction but the band seem slightly muted, almost self-conscious. "This is my new hairstyle," drawls Nicholls, with a towel draped over his head, before introducing "Stargazer"? (The title of which this writer may have misheard, as Nicholls has a tendency to mumble.) Nicholls proclaims this as his favourite song from their upcoming album. It's a slightly heavier ballad than, say, Homesick or Winning Days and it's good; really, really good, actually. A fair amount of the new material played tonight is in a similar vein.

Seemingly buoyed by the new material and the positive reception it gets, the band do a complete 180 and suddenly, there they are. It's like someone turned a light on. Get Free is a mouthy return to form and a decent, albeit brutal-looking, mosh breaks out. One guy continually throws himself over the heads of his fellow punters and attempts to crowd-surf, eventually making rib-crushing contact with the barrier. Ride feeds the moshing frenzy and is punctuated with unprompted (and shockingly in time) hand claps from the front of the moshpit to the bar. Personal favourite Outtathaway is wild, brattish and messy - in other words, perfect. Lachlan West on drums and Tim John on bass hold their own on older tracks, but really shine on the new ones.

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We're almost 40 minutes in and the numerous secreted joints being passed from hand to hand waft lazily around the room. Don't Listen To The Radio is a frenzy, complete with behind-the-head guitar action, yet just as it seems that The Vines have not just found their feet, but are also tap dancing like a juiced-up child beauty pageant entrant, it's done. Nicholls smashes in one of West's cymbals with his mic stand and they leave the stage. A friend swears he heard Nicholls yell, "You fucking wrecked it!", but he seems happy enough when he walks off stage. The curtains close and it seems like there could be an encore, but after a few minutes the house lights come up and sweaty patrons pour onto Swan Street.

There are glimpses of The Vines at their best - electrifying, defiant, wild - but unfortunately they save their best moments 'til last and, with a set that runs for only 45 minutes rather than the billed 60 minutes, there is too much left undone. Tonight feels like watching two bands play a song-for-song set, one with its feet firmly in garage rock, the other in psych ballads. The Vines' sporadic release history makes for a clunky setlist and, although their new material is excellent, its mellow, introspective sound is at odds with their mainstays. The memory of The Vines' electric 2014 show at Ding Dong Lounge is a sad reminder of how great they can be and although tonight has moments of brilliance, it ultimately feels like a wasted opportunity. And as a long-time fan, that is a hard thing to say.