Tangled Vines

Oz next big things' burden of praise.

THE VINES with SHIKASTA and the GINGER MINGE at the Tequila Lounge (794 Bathurst), Friday (May 17). $8. 416-968-2001. Rating: NNNNN

The street date of the Vines’ much-anticipated debut disc, Highly Evolved (Capitol), is still two months away, yet the Australian garage rock upstarts are already in danger of drowning in their own hype. Before anyone outside of Sydney had seen or heard the group, UK music tabloid New Musical Express hailed the 20-something skate kids as the antipodean answer to the Strokes and the White Stripes, getting the “next big thing” buzz started.

After naming their clumsily arranged Factory (Rex) single of the week and similarly honouring the follow-up, Highly Evolved, NME went on pushing the Vines. They touted them on the cover of the April 6 issue as “your real new favourite band,” with a breathless feature story that began, “We’ve already seen them play the debut gig of the year.”

Fortunately, the members of the Vines are savvy enough to recognize bullshit when they see it.

“The very next week they used the same “your new favourite band’ headline for another group,” laughs bassist Patrick Matthews from a Los Angeles hotel. “Short attention spans, I guess.

“At any given time, NME has about 10 different groups they’ll claim are the best band in the world. That’s just how they work.”

Legend has it that the Vines were started by a couple of mooks who met while working at McDonald’s, then swapped their burger flippers for guitars to become overnight rock and roll sensations. In reality, Matthews and fast-food friend Craig Nicholls had been developing their catchy Nirvana-inspired riff rock for six years before being “discovered.”

As Matthews recalls, no one seemed to take much notice of what they were doing until Nicholls suddenly became a showman in the middle of a performance two years ago.

“Craig just went crazy. He started banging his guitar on the cymbals, knocking over microphone stands and running off the stage. I didn’t know what was going on, but it now appears to have been a big step in getting people to listen to us.

“We made a demo to try to find a producer that got into the hands of the people at the XL label, and the rawness of it happened to fit in with the garage sound popular in England. When our Factory single came out, NME chose it as single of the week, and they’ve been championing us ever since.”

The lavish praise being heaped on the Vines prior to the release of their Highly Evolved album has significantly boosted the band’s profile.

But it has also raised expectations for the Vines’ music above and beyond what they’ve been able to deliver in the five months they’ve spent shaping the album with producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Foo Fighters) at L.A. 70s-rock mecca Sunset Sound.

The tunefulness and economy of the songs are promising, and the Andy Wallace-tweaked first single, Get Free, sounds like it could cause a stir on commercial rock stations tired of playing the same Strokes number.

Yet the truth is that Highly Evolved isn’t a life-changer. That could be a problem when people are counting on a second coming.

“There’s a bit of a backlash starting already in Australia because we haven’t ever really toured over there yet,” allows Matthews.

“I think our record is good. It’s not the best record ever, but we’re confident that it won’t embarrass us. There isn’t going to be any headline saying, “Oh, the band’s actually shit.'”timp@nowtoronto.com

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