The Vaccines: O2 Institute, Birmingham

The Vaccines' singer Justin Hayward-Young performing at Birmingham O2 Institute, Monday 5th February, 2024.
Photo by Paul Reynolds

The Vaccines
Birmingham O2 Institute 
Monday 5th February 2024

With a beautiful bouquet of fresh classics from their latest album, A Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations, indie darlings The Vaccines bring a perfect set to a sold-out Birmingham. Review by Sam Lambeth and photos by Paul Reynolds.

Justin Hayward-Young mustn’t set his hopes high. “That was a new song, and none of you went to the bar,” he chuckles halfway through The Vaccines’ Birmingham set, referencing that age-old adage that a band’s latest material sends swoops of punters for fresh pints. 

Hayward-Young should be more optimistic. After all, anyone boycotting the London group’s latest songs would need something more medicinal than a Madri. The Vaccines’ sixth album, A Pick-Up Full Of Pink Carnations, is a polished, pulsating collection of blistering pop rock. It is already a strong contender for album of the year and stands up proud in a commendably consistent back catalogue. And tonight, on the first leg of their UK tour, the newbies slot in seamlessly among the group’s trademark, arms-aloft classics. 

Take lead single Heartbreak Kid, a glistening guide to dashed romanticism propelled by pristine hooks, which sails along on a breezy, infectious chorus. Or, on the flip side, the melancholic stomper Discount De Kooning (Last One Standing), which gets the sold-out Brum crowd swaying in unison. It’s a testament to …Pink Carnations’ quality that even the deeper cuts are met with staunch approval, from the wistful rocker The Dreamer to the rollicking Sometimes, I Swear. 

The Vaccines' singer Justin Hayward-Young performing at Birmingham O2 Institute, Monday 5th February, 2024.
Photo by Paul Reynolds

Since first emerging at the turn of the ‘tennies, The Vaccines have become a solid, dependable unit, regularly churning out albums of high quality. Their setlist tonight draws upon all six albums, with not one dud. When they rock out, they do it with aplomb – Jump Off The Top is suitably uproarious, Wreckin’ Bar’s wham-bam gonzo garage is the perfect warm-up for what’s to come, and Teenage Icon is a giddy compendium of jittery riffs. 

However, they can be reflective, too. I Always Knew, built around a hypnotic riff and drum pattern, is a slow-burning classic that gently uncoils into an arena-sized anthem. No Hope is a scuzzy indie classic about the drudgery of mid-twenties melancholia, buoyed by Hayward-Young’s shrugging vocals. 

Then there are the two stately staples from their high water mark, 2011’s What Did You Expect From The Vaccines. The crowd hush as they’re greeted by an atmospheric keyboard motif that ushers in the uplifting Wetsuit, a song that’s sentiment – “we all got old at breakneck speed” – gets deeper with each passing year. Later on in the set, All In White, a hazy reflection replete with downbeat bass, is a firm reminder of just why The Vaccines rose high above the indie landfill. 

The Vaccines' singer Justin Hayward-Young performing at Birmingham O2 Institute, Monday 5th February, 2024.
Photo by Paul Reynolds

Hayward-Young is charismatic and charming if he only keeps his stage banter to a minimum. “This one is as old as the dinosaurs,” he quips before the aching Post Break Up Sex. He could be singing about the song, or he could be singing about the ritual, but either way it’s a potent introduction. However, he leaves his best – and most accurate – bon mot for towards the end. “What day is it today, a Monday?” he asks. “It doesn’t feel like it.” All thanks to you, it really doesn’t. 


The Vaccines are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

All words by Sam Lambeth. Sam is a journalist and musician. More of his work for Louder Than War is available on his archive. His music can be found on Spotify.

All photos by Paul Reynolds. He can be found on Instagram. 

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