The Vaselines Lube Up and Penetrate Seattle

The Vaselines
May 12th 2009

Somehow, I had completely forgotten about The Vaselines coming to Seattle.  I knew about the show, but forgot that the date was coming up so quickly until I was reminded by an email from Sound Magazine.  I would be cutting it close by sending a  press request to our contact at the venue, so I entered Sound‘s contest by replying to the email and won the tickets.  We’ve given away a handful of tickets this year and get passes to review concerts regularly, but there’s just something about “winning” the tickets.  I don’t think I’ve actually “won” anything through a random contest since I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I peeled back a decal in a Chips Ahoy!Betcha Bite a Chip” contest to reveal 2 chocolate chips.  The prize was a mini-set of Kinex; not enough to really build anything.  This prize turned out to be a hell of a lot more satisfying.

Doors opened at 8pm but, walking from downtown, I didn’t even reach Neumos until almost 9.  It didn’t matter, the place was still dead.  I headed over to the park to meet Sean Prince who was involved in a giant game of dodge ball on the tennis court.  It started to rain, we walked over to his truck and met with two others, they all took swigs off a bottle of Evan Wiliams, and we went back to the venue.  At 9:30 nothing had started.  It was still too early to tell what the turn out would be like.  When the opening band, Hallways, finally hit the stage, they looked almost too “perfect”.  Everyone was sporting their 1970s rock revival gear to a “T“.  They had an attractive young female on keys center-stage and I imagined the game of psych-rock/paper/scissors that they must have played, prior to the show, to determine which of the guys would get to wear the customary Western button up.  The bass player “won”.  The vocalist/guitarist/front-man had a quintessential Gram Parsons haircut and his little medallions were exposed by the unfastened top buttons on his shirt.  The minute he entered the stage, Sean Prince looked at me and said, “Oooh.  Sexy Rocker.”  During the first song, the group had an accomplice in the crowd who was pulling confetti from a satchel and tossing it up into the air.  This would take place at key points of the song and turned the audience into a little ticker-tape parade.  I tried to give it a chance, but I wasn’t impressed and this corny antic drove us out of the main room and into the arms of the adjacent MOE Bar.  There’s always that possibility that they wound up turning into the greatest band in the world, but I doubt it and I didn’t have it in me to stick around and find out.


The Vaselines were formed by Eugene (aka: Eugenius) Kelly and Frances Mckee of Glasgow, Scotland in 1986.  The two were a couple at the time and their collaboration as songwriters grew naturally out of their relationship and the amount of time that they spent around eachother.  With the help of their friend and label owner of, now defunkt, 53rd & 3rd, Stephen McRobbie (The Pastels), the group entered the studio for the first time ever.  They recorded two EPs and finally released their one and only full-length LP, Dum-Dum (Rough Trade), in 1989.  It was pressed to only 1,000 copies.  As naturally as it was formed, the group separated the week that the album was released, fueled by the dissolution of McKee and Kelly‘s romantic involvement itself.  By all accounts, that should have been the end of it.

Over the last 20 years their lives went on.  McKee trained to become a schoolteacher and Kelly worked on other projects.  They were pulled from obscurity after being championed by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, who covered their songs on Incesticide and their MTV Unplugged performance, and SUBPOP released a compilation of their work, The Way of The Vaselines, back in 1992.  They did a one-off performance opening for Nirvana when they came to Glasgow, but then quickly returned back to their lives.  Last year, The Vaselines came to the US for their first tour in the states and played the SUBPOP 20th anniversary performance at Marymoor Park.  Now it’s 20 years after their breakup and The Vaselines return to the city of their second birth, coupled with SUBPOP‘s new deluxe-edition reissue of their work titled, Enter The Vaselines.


The Vaselines took the stage as a 5 piece.  Along with drummer Michael McGaughrin (1990s/V-Twin), the two guitarists were joined by bassist,  Bobby Kildea, and a 3rd guitar manned by Stevie Jackson, both of Belle and Sebastian fame.  McKee was wearing a cute little red dress over her jeans, with large white flowers around the hem.  Kelly had on a paisley bandana tied around his neck like a reverse ascot.  The club had filled up nicely and was sufficiently packed by this point.  When they kicked off their set with “Son of A Gun“, I was crammed over by an in-wall bar, along with Jon Auer from The Posies.  The band already sounded amazing, so I slid past Auer to get a closer view.

The second song that they played was “Monster Pussy“.  They’ve claimed that the song is about a cat that Frances once had, but The Vaselines are known for their innuendos.  Before the song, Kelly reiterated that it was about McKee‘s “pussy“, followed by “sometimes she’d let me stroke it, and sometimes she wouldn’t.”  After “Monster Pussy” ended, Eugenius introduced the next song with, “This is all about thinking you’re a horse.  Okay, it’s all about taking LSD and thinking you’re a horse.  This is a true story“.  That’s when they played “The Day I Was a Horse“.  The bass player from the opening act was invited on stage to squeeze the bicycle horn from the “Molly’s Lips” chorus.  Frances warned that he had only had one practice and urged the crowd to “give him a break if he fucks up“.

They said that they hoped that “no one showed up expecting the young kids from the poster“, while Mckee further joked that Eugene had been caught up with the Hare Krishnas, that they had shaved his head, and that the band had to rescue and deprogram him.  They kicked into the upbeat “Oliver Twisted” before playing a new track called “Picked a Cherry“, “just to prove (they) haven’t been lazy bastards for the last 20 years.”  McKee cautioned the audience by suggesting that everyone hold their applause until after they actually played it, but it fit seamlessly into the rest of their repertoire, with it’s alternating vocals and harmonizing in the chorus.  In fact, the only thing that has held up better than Frances McKee’s porcelain face was The Vaselines’ music.

McKee still has the same childlike breathy vocals that she did in the 80‘s, which sound as if Nico was placed delicately through a pitch-shifter.  It’s a vocal delivery that was employed endlessly, post-Vaselines, and one that over-saturated a large portion of the K-Records catalog throughout the 90s.  I do love the old recordings but, in all honesty, they actually sounded remarkably better at this show than any of the originals.  Both of their voices, as well as their overall musicianship, has improved through their 20 year absence.  Don’t ask me why, but it has.  I’ve seen reunion shows before and am well aware that The Vaselines are somewhat of a “nostalgia” act, but it didn’t feel that way at all.  When I saw The Pixies a few years back, they sounded really solid, but there was something awkward about it.  There always is.  When bands break out a new track after being separated for years, it’s usually painful.  It wasn’t this time.  The banter, stage presence, delivery…everything, seemed beyond perfect and natural.  They are some kind of anomaly.  The Scots must have the technology because, they have been rebuilt better, stronger, and wittier.  Nothing seemed forced.


Eugene segued into “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” by announcing that it was about the Lord Jesus Christ and then followed it up by stating that Jesus is actually a bit of a “cunt“.  “I asked him for a bike for Christmas.  What did I get?  Fuckin’ Monopoly.”  Frances offered up an alibi for her time away from music by claiming that she had been in prison.  She also talked about rubbing the semen from little boys on her face as a skin treatment.  They whipped out the their raunchy guitar chops for “Lovecraft” and then into the bluesy psych riffs of the song “Bitch“.  McKee asked if anyone would be willing to marry her so that she could move to America and hands shot up.  Although she is already married, she said that she would consider Mormonism and that she wouldn’t mind being part of a harem.  At this point, it was time for them to play another new song (featured below).  Like the previous new song that they had offered, it was surprisingly good.  If The Way of the Vaselines was put through a age-progression for missing children, I imagine that it would have sounded just like this.  Their sound has progressed and matured tremendously.  I was left eager to hear more fresh material from them in the future.


They jumped the gun on the setlist by playing “Slushy” next, so afterwards, they backtracked to play “Teenage Superstars“.  They finished up their set with “Let’s Get Ugly“, “No Hope“, “Sex Sux (Amen), and the J. Spaceman-style heavy guitar jams of “Dying For It“, before leaving the stage.  The encore started with “Rory Rides Me Raw“, their suspiciously sexual song about “Frances’ Bike” named “Rory“.  Earlier in the show, Kelly had said that, although Frances is great with double-entendres, he’s still only good with the “single-entendre“.  The next track that they performed was their discotheque version of the Divine cover, “You Think You’re A Man“, for which they turned on the disco ball and went Studio 54 on the joint.  They closed the show with the driving rhythms of “Dum-Dum“, the title track from their original full-length LPThe Vaselines thanked SUBPOP and Nirvana for helping out their careers and expressed their pleasant surprise at the incredible turnout.  As the audience spilled out of the doors and dissipated, everyone seemed to be expressing their equally pleasant surprise at the quality of their performance.  Among the stragglers left on the mostly-vacated cement floor was label-mate Jemaine Clemente (Flight of the Conchords), who had performed down the street at The Paramount Theatre, earlier that night.

I’m sure that it’s apparent how impressed I was by The Vaselines performance and that I would recommend for anyone to see them if they get the opportunity.  They delivered more than anyone expected that night; even more than I think that they may have even realized, through their humble and organic return to music.  I hadn’t thought much about the opening act, Hallways, until I began writing this review, but I’ve noticed something interesting about the contrast between the two groups.  I didn’t stay for their set but a few things stood out, simply based on what I have seen and what I do know.  If you look at the Hallways myspace page, you will find a bio focused around the “romance” between their front man and keyboard player.  They speak of their deep musical content and professionalism.  They make implications to their future as artists.  There are pictures of them staring dramatically into each others’ eyes and home made promotional photos that look like they were peeled from Fairport Convention album covers.  The Vaselines, on the other hand, never seemed to focus too hard on their future.  They’ve never made any inflated claims about their musical ability/inspirations and they come off appearing ego-less and effortless.  Kelly and McKee‘s music always felt real which, in many ways, can be even more important than originality.  Both today, as well as their first time around, they seem content at where they are in their lives and careers, and it comes through in their sound.  Some bands focus on their approach, their image, their packaging- everything.  They live vicariously through a predetermined concept of rock stardom and musical credibility.  Some even live vicariously through other time periods from the past and model everything after those ideas.  Don’t get me wrong, such determination and motivation are actually quite admirable qualities.  The irony that I found through this show, however, was that the band who actually WAS resurrected from the past came across as the freshest and most current of the two.  There is a timelessness in their honesty and I believe that is where The Vaselines‘ strengths truly lie.

-Dead C

(Video featured above is from the Youtube account for Mattwong26.  Check it out for more video clips from the show)

Dead C

Located in Seattle, Dead C is the founder/editor, as well as the principal writer and photographer, of Monster Fresh. Creating the site in 2007, he did so with a specific dream in mind. Unfortunately, being a muscle relaxer-fueled fever dream, it’s hard to recall all of the details.

I remember that my mom was there, but it wasn’t actually her in the dream, it was actually 70s heart throb, Jan Michael Vincent. And everything took place here, in this room… but it wasn’t actually here… it was different. The colors were washed out and, for some reason, there was a raccoon kicking it with us and it was wearing a holographic monocle.

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  • Brian

    Thanks for that glowing review of hallways! I always knew Seattle music writing was focused too much on the reviewers overcompensation for the lack of importance and meaningfulness placed on their lives; thus leaving the reader with a bad and masterbatory at best diary entry style writing from a repressed high school outcast forever trying to beat down the people he/she feels inferior to. You have no right mentioning anything about them other than that they were there and may have played but you wouldn’t know for sure because you are oh so too cool for this town and have seen and done everything and everything else just isn’t good enough.(unless your equally hack gonzo gone awry psudo journalism palls say otherwise. If only music writers actually cared about or understund the subject matter they were writing about.

  • In my opinion, Seattle music writing, in general, IS weak. That’s precisely why I write in a forum where I don’t have to pander to sponsorship or love a band just because they are from here. I agree with that point, but you guys were featured in Sound Magazine so, I don’t think that reinforces your logic too well. The Stranger writes about every fucking band on the hill and covers their friend’s parties at this point. KEXP loves the Decemberists… I don’t. Local reviewers always hype the local music. If you can’t deal with the fact that someone didn’t enjoy your show, or your friends’ show, then you should get the fuck out of the game and do it now.

    Your email address is located on the band’s website, so you should avoid any accusations of bias and resist taking jabs at someone’s writing ability, if you plan to construct your comments with that many typos. I live here and would love to be able to honestly support the local music more. If I can’t do it honestly, though, then I won’t. I’ve established my view and interests through all of my articles and those who have similar outlooks, feelings, and agree with my general views, know that they can trust my interpretations as I relay them. If people like the Insane Clown Posse, then they should go to a site that is written by someone that loves them also. You won’t find that shit here.

    I hope to find more things that peak my interest locally, but it’s hard. The rap music sounds like it’s pressed in an “underground rap” template. The last few years when I lived in Olympia, everyone had a fucking keyboard and was in some electro-hardcore band. If you think your look or sound stands out, especially in this town, then I’d have to disagree. I haven’t seen “everything”, but I’ve seen that look and I’ve heard that sound. I am interested in finding new things and, if anyone wants to work in a genre that is saturated with similar artists, the burden to stand out and make an impression is yours. Hallways did not stand out for me.

    Fine artists (painting, etc) move from this city all of the time, instead of making a career here and it’s a shame. Seattle is still a relatively young city in the grand scheme, and it constantly feels to me that people want it to grow less naturally than it should. The condos and skyscraper plans are like a shot of growth hormone. I’d like to see more individual pride and individualistic art here.

    This is my site and this is the artistic medium that I work with the most at this time. You came here and attacked it based off of this one article. I gave my opinion based off of what I saw and researched about the group. I didn’t have a ton of shit to say about it so I didn’t say very much. The conclusion section was more of a general outlook and observation than it was about your particular group. I went through the respectful effort of looking up Hallways and looking more into them before writing this article. I’m sorry if it didn’t pan out for me. I’m even going through the respectful effort to post this lengthy reply. I’m one guy that wasn’t moved by one group. You seem much more emotionally invested towards my comments than I was. You seem to be projecting a bit much and sound wounded. I doubt that you came here to read a Vaselines review. It seems that you were looking for another clipping for your scrap book. The rest of the city will embrace you, don’t worry. They always do. Hallways played Neumos again and opened up for The Vaselines. The other publications, which you broadly, yet openly, slandered are embracing you. So, who gives a fuck. I deal with people talking shit to me all day on here. Sorry, it doesn’t phase me. I’ve chosen to become a public figure by using the internet. You and your pals (with one “L”) have chosen to get up on a stage and beg to be seen and judged. You expect positive feedback, sometimes you won’t get it. I thought my feedback was positive. I explained what turned me away. I realized that the uniqueness of The Vaselines is what I enjoyed. I do not enjoy your music.

  • Chris, thank you for breaking down the banter for me. I was trying desperately to understand what the fuck they were saying, but I was crammed against the merch booth and had someone with a very high pitched Fran Dresher like baby voice talking beside me the whole time. Why do people go to shows to talk? And what’s up with this tool freaking out on you for not liking his friends band? The impressions you shared were pretty much what I heard from everyone around me and the people I ran into after the show. I didn’t think they were bad musicians, but they seemed humorless and unoriginal. As for the Vaselines, they were awesome and I’m thankful to have had the good fortune to see them. I just wish Neumoes had dialed in the sound earlier and that people wouldn’t go to shows who don’t want to see the show.

  • Brian

    Thank you for that reply! At least now I know you’re a passionate writer. I’ll admit i’m with the band and I just got fed up with every review pointing out only the way hallways dresses. I’m writing these on my iPhone so excuse my lack of regard for grammer. I don’t care if people like hallways, but at lease let it be for more meaningfull reasons and maybe go into some detail why, like songwriting or sound or musicianship. As somebody looking to improve and get better I try to find something constructive in all criticism, so I find it frustrating when most criticism is so shallow and superficial. I totally respect your right to post your opinion and I assume you’re appreciative of readers posting theirs, even if their with the band. As for love from Seattle, hallways seems to be the coolest band to hate so if that’s what you mean by everyone else supporting us then I agree. Hallways plays what they love and live it’s not a fad, so if that fad is over and that’s why people can’t get over their appearances and look deeper then doesn’t it prove the band is deeply into what they do only out of love? I don’t think hallways is trying to sound like anybody other than the five people who play in the band.

  • Brian

    And I’m sorry for my assumptions in the first response I was drinking and a little fiesty and too bored.

  • It’s all good. You sounded drunk. I honestly wasn’t aware that they are attacked by writers constantly. They just didn’t draw me in. The point that I was trying to make was that I found it ironic how unserious and thought out The Vaselines career has been yet, it’s worked for them in some way. I’m not against Hallways sound but I have to restate my original point “if anyone wants to work in a genre that is saturated with similar artists, the burden to stand out and make an impression is yours“. It sounds like it is going to be a bigger struggle for Hallways to continue playing their music in this environment than a benefit.

    My assumption was that they fit into an easy mold to benefit from here(not just fashion but all around). If it is something that they are actually harpooned for and they still continue doing it because they believe in it, than I feel that they should continue. Technical ability doesn’t do much for me, finding your own twist on something and your own voice interests me much more.

    Something else ironic, your comment on my David Berman interview. Thanks. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that everyone else attacked the shit out of that one. It’s going to keep happening, I’m sure. Especially, since I will burn a bridge without thinking. I’ll burn the city if it comes to it. I don’t agree with what I read so I write what I want. I already know that people have opposing feelings in larger arenas, that’s why I do it. So it comes with the territory. The same applies for music. It pisses me off too sometimes but, overall, it shouldn’t really matter if you’re doing something from an honest place. Even if that honest place is cynical or ridiculous.

  • Brian

    Word. I can see that too. It was an ironic pairing. I wonder if they would have had a better response from an audience opening for the Kills. The vaselines helped to cultivate a whole culture out of being hip but humble and cute but raunchy, cool without trying – a sub genre called twee. Hallways isn’t anything like that so I guess it’s not hard to understand how most of the people there would think hallways was vain and insincere and contrived. Whatever maybe they are, I don’t care I still dig their music.