The Vaselines at the Empty Bottle

The Vaselines, who played Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Empty Bottle, are one of the best rock-band reunions of recent years. Barely noticed outside of Scotland when they were together the first time — for a few years in the 1980s — they gained more fans when Nirvana covered three of their songs. The original duo, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, came back together several years ago. And by now, the reunited Vaselines have released two albums of new material, sounding very much like the Vaselines of old, except with higher production values and better-tuned guitars.

Last week at the Bottle, they played a fun set of old and new songs, plus McKee’s cheeky stage banter. She said she’s been enjoying talking with Vaselines fans at the mercy table each night during this tour. “You’re the fucking weirdest audience so far,” she told the Chicago crowd. “Well done.”

When it came time for the Vaselines to sing their most famous song, “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” McKee forgot a verse in the middle of the tune. Afterward, Kelly — who’d been the butt of most of McKee’s jokes all night long — said, “Jesus Christ almighty! What happened there? We beg your forgiveness!” That was the only stumble during a lively set of catchy songs. All is forgiven, guys.










Opening act Amanda X
Opening act Amanda 

The Vaselines at Lincoln Hall

The Vaselines don’t sound like a band that skipped 21 years in between albums. Until last year’s reunion tour, which included a wonderful show at Metro in Chicago, the Scottish group hadn’t played in two decades. Led by Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly, the Vaselines played old songs that still sounded fresh, including the classic “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” while displaying a great sense of humor.

Since last year’s reunion concert, the Vaselines have released an album of new songs — actually, only the second full-length album the band has ever put out. Sex With an X, recently issued by Sub Pop, is a rare example of a reunited band writing and recording great songs that stand up well to the group’s original output. The new record sounds more polished than the old ones, but they’re in the same spirit and style.

The Vaselines were back in Chicago this week, playing Thursday (Oct. 28) at Lincoln Hall. It was another fine concert, and this time, the band had some new material to play. The Vaselines played six songs from the new album, including a couple of the catchiest songs anyone has put out this year: “I Hate the 80’s” and “Mouth to Mouth.” It would have been nice to hear “My God’s Bigger Than Your God,” too, but the half-dozen new tunes sounded strong next to the 16 Vaselines oldies in the set list.

The stage banter was hilarious and charming, just as it was last year, with McKee smiling as she made sarcastic remarks about “shagging,” while Kelly mostly played the hapless straight man.

The originally scheduled opening act, Dum Dum Girls, cancelled their appearance, which was disappointing, but the replacement, New York guitar-and-drums duo Schwervon, turned out to be a good surprise, with a lively set of songs. And then, as if making up for the lack of Dum Dum Girls, the Vaselines finished off their encore with an energetic rendition of their old song, “Dum Dum.”

SET LIST: Oliver Twisted / Monsterpussy / I Hate the 80’s / The Day I Was a Horse / Sex With an X / Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam / The Devil’s Inside Me / Molly’s Lips / Slushly / Poison Pen / Bitch / Such a Fool / No Hope / Rory Rides Me Raw / Ruined / Son of a Gun / Let’s Get Ugly / Mouth to Mouth / Dying For It (The Blues) / ENCORE: Sex Sux (Amen) / You Think You’re a Man / Dum Dum




The Vaselines and the 1900s at Metro

The odds are, if you’ve heard of the Vaselines, it’s because Nirvana covered a few of their songs. This Scottish band recorded just one LP and some singles in the late ’80s, broke up, then briefly reformed to open for their fans in Nirvana. They haven’t played together since the early ’90s, and they’d never played a concert in Chicago (for the Midwest, for that matter) until last night (May 16) at Metro. The occasion for their current tour is an excellent new collection of their old songs, Enter the Vaselines, issued this year by Sub Pop. As one of the band’s two singer-guitarists, Frances McKee, noted, it’s an “old-new CD.”

The group is essentially the duo of McKee and Eugene Kelly, though for this show they were backed up by three musicians on loan from other Scottish groups: guitarist Stevie Jackson and bassist Bob Kildea (both from Belle and Sebastian) and drummer Michael McGaughrin (from the 1990s). They were, as McKee joked, “the professionals in this outfit.”

Despite being away for so many years, the Vaselines sounded so fresh. Their songs have some of that Velvet Underground and post-punk feel, but there’s also a sweet pop side to what they do. That attitude also came through in their hilarious stage banter. Well, McKee was hilarious in any case, making bitterly funny remarks about her erstwhile romantic partner, Kelly, who played the part of the straight man in this routine. When Kelly introduced one song by saying, “This is a love song,” she interjected with a smile, “Not any more.” She also accused him of wearing “grumpy pants,” and when audience members called out that they loved Kelly, she tartly noted, “You obviously don’t know him.” After another song, she said, “There’s a message in that song: If you take too many drugs, you’ll end up like Eugene.” She delivered all this verbal abuse with a wry sense of humor (maybe that Scottish accent helps), and he stood there and took it with a slightly chagrined look.

If they still had any actual bitter feelings between them, it didn’t stop them from performing top-notch versions of their old songs, including of course highlights like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” which Nirvana fans know so well from the MTV Unplugged album. And the Vaselines even played a couple of new songs (one of which was identified simply as “new new song” on the set list), which sounded almost as good as the oldies. Let’s hope we hear more from the Vaselines soon.

To read more about the Vaselines, see the Sub Pop site.
Photos of the Vaselines.

The opening act was one of my local favorites, the 1900s (not to be confused with the aforementioned Scottish group, the 1990s). They’ve had a couple of members leave the band over the last year, but they had a new drummer and keyboard player in place for last night’s gig, and they also played a few new songs, which sounded promising. I eagerly await their next record.
Photos of the 1900s.