There was a time where The Vasco Era verged on being the best live band in Australia. Perhaps that’s not the right word – edged on, maybe. Edged dangerously close. At knifepoint. Their ferocious, howling take on blues-tinged rock’n’ roll violently shook the foundations of every venue they set foot in.
Whoever they may have shared the bill with, it was never a fair fight – no-one riled up an audience quite like them. But the trio never burned out. They never even faded away. They just… stopped. Radio silence. Nothing. So, to borrow a phrase from The Libertines, what became of the likely lads?
“I was travelling through India for awhile,” says Sid O’Neil, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “I lost the plot a bit while I was over there. I guess I wanted to get away from the band. It was all that I’d done since I was about 16, and I wasn’t necessarily into the music anymore. It was hard to keep that band as my identity when my heart wasn’t really in it. I felt like there was a lot of resistance to whenever we made changes as a band, because people were so steadfast in linking us to the sound we had when they first heard us. Rather than continually try to change people’s perceptions, I decided to just quit. It wasn’t who I was anymore – things had changed.”
In the intervening years, O’Neil has led a far quieter and unassuming life that has primarily kept him out of the musical spotlight. He’s almost 32 now, an expecting first-time father, a home-owner out near Daylesford in regional Victoria and currently undertaking studies for a Master’s degree in social work. He still makes music, albeit low-key and homegrown – “I have a bunch of songs that I’ve never put out that are quite different to Vasco,” he says. “I might put them out someday.”
In amongst all of that, he’s found some time to do a few special reunion shows with The Vasco Era, several years after they imploded. So, what changed? For O’Neil, it was about recalibrating the pressure put on the band and appreciating what the trio had together in retrospect.“The company of the band itself was never any issue,” he says. “I was in a band with my brother [Ted O’Neil, bass] and one of my best friends since high school [Michael Fitzgerald, drums]. I think it was more to do with the band being a part of my identity.
“I saw it as such an integral part when I was growing up and I was in my 20s. Now, in my 30s, I don’t see it as a part of me like that at all. It’s just something from my past that I get to revisit. Doing these shows is fine because it’s not really a big deal. We’ve got no label people stressing over us, we’re not going to go out and do a massive tour or make a new record or anything like that. I’m just treating it for what it is, which is just having some fun and making a bit of noise with the people I grew up with.”
Prior to 2017, The Vasco Era had only played a single one-off benefit show in February of last year alongside the also-reunited Little Red. In doing so, O’Neil was able to properly appreciate what the band had when the three shared a stage together. Although his relationship with the recorded material is shaky – “I only really like a couple of songs we did towards the end,” he says bluntly – he knows the power of a rambunctious crowd matched with the unhinged energy of the trio.
“There’s still something really unique to us as a live band,” says O’Neil. “I just think there’s always this real energy that’s there. Playing with these guys again has made me really appreciate that it’s something worth pursuing. What I did with The Vasco Era started literally half my life ago – it’s nice to be able to relive a part of it and to play these songs the way that they should have been recorded.”