May 21, 2010

Vaselines & Beat Happening. Live in London. 06/16/88.

Even with Kurt Cobain’s imprimatur (Nirvana covered three of their songs), the Vaselines remained primarily a cult phenomenon. Which is too bad because, they were the perfect noise-pop band, and recorded possibly the best records by any group from their decade. Short, catchy, cute and psycho, the Vaselines were classic indie-pop tweeness leavened with punk’s raw edge. They had a naïve, nearly desperate enthusiasm for their songs—all played with pure, guileless abandon and wads of humor. Like a Hello Kitty cut out of ragged sheet metal. Or being shot at with volleys of sweet tarts. If your favorite Velvet Underground songs were the Moe Tucker ones…that fragile sweetness backed up by a band that could explode into vicious feedback at any moment, then you need the Vaselines. You can sing along with them even on the first spin, and you’ll never get the songs out of your head again.

Their friends in Beat Happening had nearly sub-levels of technical skill, were completely ambivalent about tuning, melody and key, and sang casually obsessive songs about teenage love and lust (We tip over apple carts / With the pounding of our hearts, runs a typical lyric). Calvin sounded like an indie-geek version of Barry White and Heather’s voice was achingly sweet in a way that made you think of cardigan sweaters and kittens (without also making you want to throw up). Somehow or another, they ended up playing a lot of hardcore shows with bands like Black Flag or Fugazi, and during their sets handed out candy to the bewildered audiences. They elevated naiveté to an art form.

They also wrote some of the most indelible and influential music of the last twenty years—from twee, acapella laments of unrequited love, thumping, two-chord rockers (also about crushing on a guy or gal who is currently going out with someone who isn’t you), sweet catchy pop about the timelessness of an Indian Summer, and aggressively noisy musical scribbles (again, with lyrics that were probably scrawled on a torn scrap of paper and pushed through the holes of your girlfriend’s locker).

This adorable tape finds them both playing together in London, with some hilarious between song asides.

Live in London

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