The Vaselines with Jeffrey Lewis
10 p.m. Wednesday
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneEyedjacks.net
Most bands, if they're lucky, have middling experiences with labels. The Vaselines are not most bands.
"Last time, there was no money there, just one bloke working out of an office in Edinburgh," Eugene Kelly says in a rich Scottish lilt. He's recounting the week in 1989 when his first imprint, 53rd and 3rd, went belly-up. Kelly remembers it well. It was the same week Dum-Dum, the Glaswegian band's first — and until last month, only — LP, was scheduled for release. "It's nice being on a proper label. Sub Pop is the real deal."
On Sept. 14, the Vaselines ended two decades of recording silence with Sex With an X, a collection of 12 new songs that sound remarkably like its 19 slumbering treasures. The album is actually the band's third Sub Pop catalog number, following two compilations, 1992's The Way of the Vaselines and the expanded 2009 reissue Enter the Vaselines — and giving the Vaselines the rare and dubious honor of having its second retrospective arrive before its second album.
"I think the time is right," Kelly says of the reunion. "There wasn't much of an audience for us back in the '80s. We were kind of ramshackle then as well. We weren't really presenting ourselves as best as we could. There's an audience for us now. They get our humor. They get what we're trying to do."
Included in the small crowd the Vaselines' sloppy, randy pop attracted was one huge outlier: Kurt Cobain, who championed the band like a super fan, wearing its T-shirt on magazine covers and covering its songs in concert and on records. A brief reunion in 1990, to open for Nirvana in Scotland, didn't stick; too many hard feelings between Kelly and co-singer/songwriter Frances McKee, he says, both professional and romantic. But the pair remained friends, and a chance performance in Glasgow together in 2006 — a promotion of their respective solo projects, Captain America (which became Eugenius) and Suckle — spawned a series of gigs in the summer of 2008, as well as their first trip to the U.S.
"We came over and didn't know what to expect, not thinking really that anybody knows us," Kelly says. "It was a one-off, but we got more offers to go places. Coming to America made us realize that we've got to keep doing this because there's people out there who want to see us. So we're going to try and play for them."
Cobain's company of fellow admirers has grown over the years, as have the bands adopting the Vaselines' accidental genius of sweetly harmonized guy/girl melodies with amateurish guitars and beat-skipping rhythms. Many were in diapers during the first, abbreviated go-around, such as the homage-titled Dum Dum Girls, who will join the Vaselines later on its current jaunt. Does Kelly hear himself in the current crop of garage bands? "I think we're all just coming from the same direction," he says. "We've all got the same influences, '60s garage pop/rock. ... It's a massive compliment, really. You make music and you want people to like it, but you also want your peers to get it."
A "joke that people didn't really get," according to McKee, the Vaselines' seemingly overt sexual content was a source of great amusement within the band. It still is, Kelly says: "('Rory Rides Me Raw') was about a bicycle that Frances used to own," he laughs. "She loved that bicycle. 'Monsterpussy' was about a cat that went under the floorboards and stayed there for a few weeks. It was just our idea of what we were going to do with it, to get it back out. A lot of the songs were based on things that were going on in our lives, what we're thinking about."