Generic Vines cling to show-biz cliches

July 15, 2002


To paraphrase the great Nigel Tufnel, it's a fine line between clever and shticky, and two of the three much-lauded bands at Metro on Saturday night fell on the wrong side of that divide.

Headliners the Vines are a young quartet from Sydney whose calculated, formulaic sound is nearly as contrived and derivative as the last great Australian hype, Silverchair. But where that trio relied almost exclusively on ripping off Pearl Jam and Nirvana, the Vines' Capitol debut, "Highly Evolved," mixes a bit of grunge, a little vintage shoegazer dream-pop, and a hint of mainstream radio jangle a la Matchbox 20.

Though they were utterly generic, louder grunge songs such as the single "Get Free" were at least more energetic than the lulling and introspective ballads. It was a sign of trouble whenever the part-time fourth member emerged to add amplified acoustic guitar and band auteur Craig Nicholls slipped into his Jeff Buckley imitation on vocals.

In both modes, Nicholls seemed to think that rolling around on the floor and hurling himself about the stage like Iggy Pop were a passable substitute for genuine musical excitement. When he threw himself into the drums a la Kurt Cobain to end the set--and avoid the encore that his group clearly didn't have in it--it played like exactly what it was: a hokey and hollow showbiz gesture.

The middle band on the bill, Chicago's OK Go, was no more impressive, and no less shticky.

Best known for writing the theme for the WBEZ public radio show "Odyssey" and contributing the occasional track to "This American Life," the long-running group of smart popsters (recently expanded to a quintet with the addition of a trumpeter/-keyboardist) was embarrassingly shameless in flaunting its own show-biz slickness and a rabid desire for yuppie pop stardom on the level of Barenaked Ladies, a band these guys resemble much more than Weezer, whom Capitol probably had in mind when signing them.

Gearing up for the September release of their major-label debut, hyperactive frontman Damian Kulash and his bandmates flogged their own minor radio hit, "Get Over It," hopped from genre to genre in an attempt to show their agile pop prowess and musicianly chops, and spewed a never-ending series of lyrical puns, double entendres and plain ol' cliches.

It's interesting that the Vines and OK Go both pulled out unexpected covers in an effort to claim roots they don't really have: The former played "Ms. Jackson" by Outkast, while the latter tackled the Specials. Sorry, fellas, but authenticity isn't quite as easily purchased as major-label hype.

Opening the show was a young suburban trio called Sleeping at Last, better known as "the band Billy Corgan has been producing and talking up in interviews."

Sparkling and jangly, the group's sometimes moody, sometimes bubbly power-pop has yet to grow beyond its influences, and guitarist-vocalist Ryan Curtis O'Neal is still an awkward performer--he continually apologized for stopping to tune, and his most memorable bid at stage patter was, "Does anyone else out there have a cold?"

But the Great Pumpkin is right: Sleeping at Last is a band with promise, and on Saturday, it outshone the more established acts that followed it.