Live at The Old Fire Station, Bournemouth
It was not a gig. It was a rock spectacle. Billed as a Canadian, feminist, queer, cock rock cover band, I was unsure what to expect from Vag Halen. The write up concentrated mostly on the lead singer’s lack of clothing and the band’s politics-on-the-sleeve attitude. I mean, they have the word Vag in their band name. Grandma would be appalled. I was thrilled at the sheer subversiveness. The gig at the Old Fire Station was part of the local arts festival Arts by the Sea which puts on a number of performances, exhibitions and shows around Bournemouth every year. It was Vag Halen’s first visit to the sleepy Dorset seaside town but was Bournemouth ready for the wake-up? Taking the stage with little pre-empt and no support acts - other than a DJ, who cunningly set us up for the onslaught with a mix of everything from Knife to Peaches and MIA - the all-woman band delivered on their promised provocation from the first chord. The level of completely unabashed sexual energy was palpable, and mildly intimidating. The venue was only half full so they encouraged the audience forward saying, “Don’t be afraid, we don’t bite….that hard.” They ripped through tracks by Guns N’Roses, Rush, Motorhead, Led Zepplin and a plethora of big hair, big noise cock rock including a stunning version of Scorpion’s "Rock you like a hurricane". They were not your average cover band. For a start they can actually play, which helps, and immediately sets them apart from most cover bands who aim to emulate and manage only poor imitation. Then there’s the whole repurposing of an entire genre which has too long been a misogynistic musical strong hold. By simply changing the gender of the vocalist they change the whole song. Though they aim to please the girls, it wasn’t just for gay ladies, the crowd had a healthy hetero population of guys and gals, and I think the show was equally appreciated by all. The band were, of course, keen to show off their power chords, and other talents. Three songs in, lead singer Vanessa Dunn, paused between tracks. “Oh look who came out to play! My right nipple!” Then licked it, saying, “It was supposed to come out in song seven.” Like Juliette Lewis, but hotter, Dunn introduced the band referring to herself as “Vanessa I-absorb-all-the-attention-front-person”. An accurate, if self-deprecating, description. That’ll be the Canadian humour. Late in the set she crawled from the stage to the bar and gyrated in front of a team gawping bar staff and an awestruck crowd of onlookers (including yours truly who was simply trying to get served). These ladies don’t walk, they strut, balls out, taking stage-craft cues from Jagger et al via Miley Cyrus. By the last track there was not a dry seat in the house, not that anyone one was sitting down by then. Vag Halen were exactly what ‘sleepy’ Bournemouth needed – a shot of rock adrenaline that left us all very much wide awake.