HOUSTON — Geographically, Jet and the Vines had to travel halfway around the world for the Aussie Invasion Tour, which kicked off Thursday at the Engine Room. In every other respect, the bands appeared to have flown in from the year 1975.
With a Pete Townshendesque windmill swing, Jet lead singer/guitarist Nic Cester initiated the first attack volley of the night with an opening amplifier crunch that led into "Cold Hard Bitch" from the group's breakthrough, Get Born. His corrugated falsetto bayed into the microphone with misplaced passion while guitarist Cameron Muncey, bassist Mark Wilson and Nic's brother Chris, the drummer, kicked out a dirty buzz of nostalgia. Ghosts of their influences — AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, even the White Stripes — lived in their fingers and throats, lashing out as if from archival concert footage.
"Get What You Need" galloped to a two-tone beat seared with Nic's nicotine-choked declaration, "Now I'm in a rockin' band/ No one has to hold my hand." The buzzing bass of "Rollover DJ" was an obvious come-on, but effective when followed by the songs mixing funky fuzz and bluesy swing. Cester undulated in front of it all like Mick Jagger on training wheels. Whether it was the Sgt. Pepper pop charm of "Look What You've Done" or the zig-zagging arena rock gestalt of "Get Me Outta Here," Jet succeeded by capitalizing on the familiar and revered.
Jet were a tough act to follow, but the promise of previewing new songs from the Vines' second album, Winning Days (due March 23), was more than enough to keep the crowd around for the band's midnight start. Much like Jet now, the Vines' punk-pop bleating was all the rage two summers ago; the Aussie Invasion Tour is the group's opportunity to show its staying power. They came out swinging.
Opening with "Evil Town" and "Ride," two blasts of sonic savagery from Winning Days, lead singer Craig Nicholls found his lyrical comfort zone in the key of wail. The rest of the band — guitarist Ryan Griffiths, bassist Patrick Matthews and drummer Hamish Rosser — have further perfected the art of raggedly harmonizing with a faux-apathy once associated with the Ramones.
It was five songs in before "Autumn Shade," from the band's first album, Highly Evolved, made an appearance. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Nicholls cleared his throat to reveal a caramel-coated tenor. The bass-loop psychedelia of "Mary Jane" further smoothed out the notes, but it was a momentary high. With a crack of feedback, Nicholls screamed "I wanna get free!" and the room exploded into the hit "Get Free," which was followed closely by the scorching apathy of a new song, "F--- the World," before a final blast of snot-pop on "Outtathaway!"
Over four hours of sonic assault later (including an opening set by Warped Tour veterans the Living End), the Aussie Invasion declared its mission accomplished.
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