Brad Simpson can’t help being pretty. But pretty he clearly is, and as a result he and The Vamps, the band he’s been fronting since their formation in 2011, have struggled to escape the label of “boy band” for much of their career. On the strength of their performance at Auckland’s Powerstation last night, it isn’t an entirely fair description.
There was an undeniable energy in last night’s show. The Vamps have, in the UK, played significantly larger venues, but the Powerstation provided a much more intimate setting for a 13-song set that saw a very young, overwhelmingly female and exceptionally enthusiastic audience bounce, jump and sing through the show. The music itself is a little insubstantial, ploughing a fairly predictable furrow of jaunty, catchy, frothy and slightly samey numbers, but the fans in the audience, of whom there were many, didn’t seem to care. Lyrics were sung, screamed, shrieked with gusto, the audience often matching the band’s loudness. Simpson effortlessly worked an audience that was happy to be worked, calling out the words “New Zealand” more times than any politician making their post-election speeches that evening, and getting the adoration he expected from the band’s fans. Bass player Connor Ball had relatively little to do, pounding away simple accompaniments and leaving the heavy rhythm lifting to drummer Tristan Evan, who played with a pleasing degree of creativity and fluidity. James McVey, the band’s lead guitarist, looked a little lost stage right, but again, the audience didn’t mind. Instead, songs like Shades On and Cecilia, the Simon and Garfunkel semi-cover that helped The Vamps make a significant name for themselves, bopped along with agreeable energy.
The Powerstation proved a very suitable venue for The Vamps. The sound was better than I’ve heard before there; the lighting, for a change, actually let the audience see the band. And while the larger arenas the band have played elsewhere lately might pack more punters in, they’re the kind of band who benefit from a more intimate setting, and it was clear that both band and audience enjoyed last night’s show enormously. The audience also enjoyed Nomad, a Christchurch band who’ve been building a following across New Zealand in the last year or so. Despite still being in their teens, they played an impressive set that closed with a surprisingly retro-authentic reading of Jailhouse Rock. The best support bands are the ones that are clearly destined to make a name for themselves, and there’s a certain undeniable thrill in discovering an up-and-coming band; Nomad are definitely a name to watch out for.
But while The Vamps’s performance was powerful, energetic, and very enjoyable, it was also surprisingly short. The schedule at the sound desk said that they were due on stage and 9:30 and off again at 10:45. An hour and fifteen minutes would seem like a short show for a band with three albums of material to choose a set from, but The Vamps didn’t even manage to play that long. As “Staying Up” ended, not much more than forty minutes into the show, and the band left the stage, I was astonished. The crowded chanted for an encore, the band came back to the stage and played Can We Dance and All Night, and then it was all over, at 10:20, well under an hour after the show began. Fifty minutes is little more than a quarter of a Bruce Springsteen show; I’ve seen support acts play longer sets than this. Simpson apologised at one point for the band’s flubbing of the intro to a song, claiming jet lag as an excuse; even at seventy dollars for a ticket, I’m afraid an audience is entitled to a much longer set than The Vamps played last night. There’s not denying the quality of their performance; I have serious concerns about the quantity.