The Vines at the Vic in Chicago

By Mark Guarino

One man sufficiently summed up the Vines show at the Vic Friday. It involved two fingers, one on each hand, both of them waving in the air in the direction of the stage.

He made the gesture as he was headed for the door, coat in hand, female companion leading the way. Many others had the same idea. In fact, eight songs into the truncated 45-minute set, the Vic went from sold-out to half capacity.

Blame it on — who else? — lead singer-guitarist Craig Nicholls. Since the Sidney band broke out of the gate two years ago, Nicholls became the self-appointed heir to Kurt Cobain, thanks to a songbook setting obvious references to Nirvana and a preference for closing every show by smashing up the drumkit with his guitar. He wears cardigan sweaters too.

Calculated or not, the heavy allegiance helped make the Vines the most commercially successful band of the “new rock” crop two years back, selling 1.5 million records.

“Winning Days” (Capitol), their follow-up, finds them in a sophomore slump with plodding songs and little progression. Nicholls started the show with “Autumn Shade II,” one of its slowest, but after it was finished, continued to make up songs on the spot, forcing his band to follow his droning vocals singing wordless muck. As the band tried to rein him in, he barked at them individually to follow his lead.

Then came the booing. Nicholls’ response was calling his fans “(expletive) morons” and soon played songs (“Winning Days,” “Mary Jane”), substituting the words with verbal blathering. Eight songs into his set, he threw his guitar down and exited.

With Ryan Adams, Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst and Creed’s Scott Stapp all performing floundering, disoriented shows over the past two years, Chicago audiences have had to face their share of pathetic rock star poseurs translating their third rate artistry into bad boy misbehavior. But Nicholls’ performance topped them all.

Creed and Limp Bizkit fans set a precedent in Chicago for suing both bands after lackluster shows, which might explain why Nicholls returned to eke out four more songs. These too were performed with minimal interest, with Nicholls moaning the words to “Get Free,” their biggest hit, incoherently.

Memo to Craig and his management: explaining you were “actually pretty sick” is not a reason for a cash grab. Options exist like canceling a show. That guy holding up his two fingers was just returning the sentiment.

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