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Music Review

No time like present for Vaselines

The Vaselines’ Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly played songs from the 1980s and 2010 at the Paradise Tuesday. The Vaselines’ Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly played songs from the 1980s and 2010 at the Paradise Tuesday. (Greg M. Cooper for The Boston Globe)
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2010

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“How many of you were born in 1989?’’ queried Vaselines singer-guitarist Frances McKee, gazing out at the modest but fervent audience that had crowded close to the Paradise stage Tuesday night. Not a lot of hands went up to mark the year that the Vaselines called it quits, just as their first — and for the next 21 years, only — album was released.

Heck, even the 20-something guy in the T-shirt emblazoned with the name of the band that single-handedly revived interest in the Scottish group two decades ago — a.k.a. Nirvana — would have been too young to pick up on Kurt Cobain’s early ’90s covers of “Molly’s Lips’’ or “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.’’ But he and everybody else roared with recognition when the Vaselines eased into the latter’s melody, perhaps the group’s prettiest.

A few folks in the audience were, in fact, nearly as graying as McKee’s Vaselines partner, singer-guitarist Eugene Kelly — albeit less droll and quick with a quip than the playful pair on stage.

The duo was backed by a tight three-piece unit of bass, drums, and guitar, and toting a clutch of pithy pop songs from a wholly improbable (and improbably good) new album, “Sex With an X.’’ While it was a treat to hear the contrast of their voices — hers feathery and sincere; his slightly sour and dourly deadpan — reanimating alternative-universe classics like “Son of a Gun’’ and “No Hope’’ — the real surprise proved to be the new songs like the Yo La Tengo-esque “Whitechapel’’ , or the album’s sparkling, scuffed-up title track.

Another new one, “I Hate the ’80s,’’ doubled as era-encapsulating highlight and ode to mixed feelings. Buoyed by a swinging “Sweet Jane’’ guitar riff, the ditty skewered the decade that birthed Duran Duran and Rubik’s Cubes (and the Vaselines), but cut its scorn with a fuzzy soft spot for nostalgia and fleeting youth. “Where did that girl go?’’ McKee and Kelly asked, singing and playing together all these years later. “What did that boy know?’’

Jonathan Perry can be reached at roughgems@aol.com.

THE VASELINES

At: the Paradise Rock Club, Tuesday