“This is a song by a band called The Vaselines. They’re from Edinburgh, Scotland. And they’re very punk rock.”
Those were the first words uttered by Kurt Cobain to a packed-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on 31st October, 1991. The quiet, long-haired genius then preceded to kick off Nirvana’s Halloween show with a powerful rendition of ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’.
23 years on and this small band from the Scottish capital, admired so greatly by one of the icon’s of music history, embarked on Sheffield’s Plug venue on 27th November 2014 for their penultimate show of the year.
‘The Vaselines’ formed in 1986 as an alternative rock duo between Eugene Kelly and Frances McGee. Following the release of two short EP’s and a full length album named ‘Dum-Dum’, the band split up, seemingly without ever becoming well-known beyond their home country. But the admiration of one musician in America ensured that the band would cement their small, but well-deserved place in music history.
Cobain was a big fan of the Scottish duo and Nirvana first performed a live cover of them, playing ‘Molly’s Lips’, on 17th November 1989 in Gammelsdorf in Germany. Back then they were just any other band, having released their debut album ‘Bleach’ just months earlier.
The trio’s first cover of another Vaselines track, ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’ was in Boston, Massachusetts just under two years later. The date was 23rd September 1991 – the same day that the band released their second studio album ‘Nevermind’. An album that, by January, had knocked Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ off of number one spot in the charts. It changed music forever and ensured that Nirvana were no longer any other band.
This major success had the knock-on effect of suddenly bringing a large amount of exposure to The Vaselines, whose song’s continued to be covered by Nirvana for the duration of their short, but hugely successful career. ‘Son of a Gun’ and ‘Molly’s Lips’ both even appeared on the band’s official 1992 release ‘Incesticide’, while ‘Jesus…’ appeared in the MTV Unplugged performance in 1993.
Despite this new-found success for The Vaselines, they reformed only once throughout the 90’s – supporting Nirvana when they performed in Edinburgh in 1990.
It wasn’t until 2006 that that McKee and Kelly finally took to the stage once again as The Vaselines, during a joint-tour promoting the two’s solo albums. 21 years after the first album, the band released their second, ‘Sex With an X’, in 2010. And this year saw a third full-length release, titled ‘V is for Vaselines’.
The tour promoting the new album had reached it’s penultimate night as the band headed to Sheffield after performing all over Europe in recent weeks. Plug is one of Sheffield’s smaller and more unknown music venues, but it made the perfect setting for a wonderfully intimate performance by these music veterans.
Support for the show came from American rock duo ‘Schwervon!’. Made up of Matt Mason on guitar and Nan Turner on drums, the twosome warmed up the anticipating crowd with a memorable and, at times, slightly bizarre set! The songs played included ‘Undertoe’ and ‘Landlocked’ – the first song written by the band.
Clearly very honoured to be supporting The Vaselines, ‘Schwervon!’ took the opportunity to invite McKee on stage to provide vocals for one of their songs. However, the most memorable moment of their set was their song ‘Beijing’. The slightly odd track saw the drummer step up to perform a rap – complete with a dance routine to go with it! Whilst leaving the crowd slightly stunned for a moment, there is no doubt that it was very memorable and overall their set was certainly entertaining.
The room filled with excited fans as the main event approached and The Vaselines finally took to the stage at 9:15pm. The original duo were accompanied by Scott Paterson (guitar), Graeme Smillie (bass) and Michael McGaughrin (drums).
After playing the first few tracks of the sets, including ‘High Tide, Low Tide’ from the newest album, McKee greeted the audience and announced that it was their first time in Sheffield…before quickly being corrected by those in the crowd, to which Kelly joked that their previous visit to The Leadmill was “unforgettable” and that “it’s great to see you again!”.
This light-hearted and often crude on-stage banter entertained the crowd throughout the evening as the duo joked about topics including their relationship in the 80’s.
The title track of their second album, ‘Sex With an X’, was followed by ‘Molly’s Lips’. It was for this song that the band decided to return a favour, inviting the support band ‘Schwervon!’ on stage to play the highly technical horns for the track!
The highlight of the evening was a beautiful performance of ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’, more than two decades after Cobain and co. covered the song for their incredible Unplugged performance in New York. There was clearly a contingent of Nirvana fans in attendance and this was a special moment for them in particular.
The band performed songs from the whole range of the 24-year history. Early tracks such as ‘Sex Sux’ and ‘Monsterpussy’ from the 1980’s were played alongside tracks like ‘Crazy Lady’ and ‘One Lost Year’ from their newest release’s, which pleased old and new fans alike.
A memorable evening was brought to a close with ‘Son of a Gun’, the title track from their first ever EP in 1987 and a song covered by Nirvana numerous times. Before performing the final song, McKee and Kelly offered their heartfelt thanks to the fans before bringing the set to a close.
Setlist: Ruined // The Day I Was A Horse // High Tide, Low Tide // Monsterpussy // Oliver Twisted // Sex With an X // One Lost Year // Molly’s Lips // Lonely LP // Hairy // Such A Fool // I Hate The 80’s // Earth Is Speeding // Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam // Sex Sux // No Hope // Crazy Lady // The Devils Inside Me // Lets Get Ugly // Slushy // Son of a Gun