The seasons and the Coriolis effect are not the only things reversed Down Under — the triple bill “Aussie Invasion” has the weakest band in the headliner’s slot. All three bands are basically revivalists: Living End, ’70s punk; Jet, that decade’s earlier classic rock; and the Vines, the early ’90s alt-rock spearheaded by Nirvana. The former two made their cases in energetic, rousingly entertaining sets while the Vines ended the evening on a shambling, self-destructive note.
The Vines’ problems can be laid at the feet of front man Craig Nicholls. Unhinged but fascinating last year at the Fonda, he appeared to be sedated on the Wiltern’s stage. Heavy-lidded, his limbs so rubbery you could fold him like a bridge chair, Nicholls looked so unsubstantial his feet hardly seemed to touch the ground. And he is afflicted with a rare ability — he is seemingly able to make guitars fall out of tune simply by touching them. If Nicholls sang in key, this might be a problem, but since he rarely came close to hitting a note during the Vines’ set, it did not seem to trouble him.
He spent most of the performance in a sulk, and things did not noticeably improve when he committed himself to the material. The garage rock bash of “She’s Got Something to Say to Me” (from the band’s sophomore Capitol release, “Winning Days”) was marred by his tuneless caterwaul and exaggerated simian facial expressions; he ended the tune seated with his back to the aud, abusing his guitar. Nicholls has leapt directly to the erratic performances of Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin in their decline, without ever having the attained heights of Morrison’s or Joplin’s career to fall back on.
There’s no drama or sense of lost chances in Nicholls’ onstage antics and desultory acts of stage destruction (he tore drummer Hamish Rosser’s kit apart twice and fell through his amps during the encore). He comes off as the class burnout who stumbled onto the ability to write an occasional good song (prorated, about 2½ per album).
On a more optimistic note, those who are kept up nights wondering where the Stones imitators for the next generation are can sleep easy now. Jet has proudly stepped into that breach and graciously agreed to be the Humble Pie of the 21st century — they spend their nights slamming through thick, hip-shaking, blues-based rock with shouted, raspy high-pitched vocals. All they lack is a cowbell.
There’s not an original note to be heard in their entire set (or “Get Born,” their debut Elektra album), but they steal with a charm and verve that makes it palatable. “Rollover D.J.” is built around a meaty BTO riff, “Get What You Need” struts like vintage Free, and “Look What You’ve Done” is the best rewrite of the Beatles’ “Sexy Sadie” since Oasis. But it’s not straight imitation; they attempt to freshen the sound — “Are You Going to Be My Girl” (the song used to great effect in Apple’s iPod campaign) is AC/DC rewired for listeners weaned on the White Stripes.
With their short, declamatory songs, sharp pop sensibility and sped-up tempi, the Living End could easily end up being Green Day with long nasal vowel sounds. But there’s nothing doctrinaire about the trio. Scott Owen’s standup bass gives them a muddier, more liquid bottom, and Chris Cheney is probably the only punk who would dedicate a song to Chet Atkins. He’s the real thing on guitar, adding buzz-saw rockabilly solos to the mix.
Even though the band was relegated to an early hour, the Living End was able to work the aud into a cheering, moshing froth; Jet had the house up and dancing. The Vines, on the other hand, experienced a steady exodus, with a good deal of the house gone before they returned for the evening’s only encore.