The first time I witnessed VietNam was at the Empty Bottle, a venue considerably more fitting for their style than the Double Door, in an opening slot for The Comas. Immediately following that night, I shelved my Comas record and began to keep vigil for any news about VietNam.
There was something that drew me in with the band during their first performance. They had this inert arrogance, some of the members even sat on their amps as they played. They hardly seemed aware that there was an audience, let alone wanting to pander to us with some energetic performance. Forward to several months later when I see they are opening for…the Lemonheads? I was equally eager and confused. There is a significant difference between a band that makes “not giving a fuck” stylish and a band that truly does not give a fuck. VietNam is, unquestionably, closer to the latter. The band has this way about them that makes you feel they have just rolled out of the film Woodstock. It is all too easy to imagine one or more had to be violently shaken to get up for the performance. While they could pass, in appearance, to hippies, this is not hippy music. They look, as Sir Mick once sang, 'eyes a little bleary, worse for wear and tear.' At times the music can be downright trippy and hypnotic but they can also bring the rock and the roll in a most delectable fashion. It’s raw, unpolished, and sloppy (using sloppy in the best possible sense.) There is an all around ugliness to this band and one quickly realizes they do more than just play it, they live it. Sucking on bottles of Bud mid-song, keeping the kick drum in place with a cement block, incoherent references to devil's dandruff; all rock should be served in such ways.
They opened with "Hotel Riverview," a song whose searing lead guitar sound was snatched from just where Brian Jones left it on “Time is On My Side.” They proceeded into “Priest Poet & the Pig”, both off their forthcoming self-titled LP. Somewhere around mid-set, after a quick dedication to Pitchfork delivered with a sardonic smirk, they delved into the rollicking “Welcome to my Room.” I am not certain of the reference, but I am deducing it was in reference to the dismal 5.0 rating Pitchfork gave VietNam’s 2004 EP, The Concrete is Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street. Don’t hold me to that though. As the room filled toward the end of their set, it was easy to see the majority of the Lemonheads audience had, at best, a minor aversion to VietNam and their stylings. My craving for VietNam's rock had been satiated, for now. My vigil will begin anew, in hopes the next trip they will be atop the bill.
(For all your VietNam needs, this is a rather informative article by way of their myspace page. It is worth checking this site for the “impromptu witchdoctor” party photos alone. They fall somewhere between Apocalypse Now and Oliver Stone’s notion of Jim Morrison’s hallucinations.)
This brings us to The Lemonheads. I will be forthright and state I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Lemonheads fan. I have no particular dislike either, more of a disinterest. As they were making their shift into the mainstream with It’s a Shame about Ray, it is more than probable I was still in mourning over another band’s descent into the same realm with their vile, self-titled, "Black" album.
I sensed some trouble as VietNam ended their set and a wave of people washed to the front of the stage, with the same haste that I was trying to make my way towards the bar. I could see relief in the eyes of some passing. Finding comfort that the earlier disturbance had passed and with no casualties to report, it was now clear to occupy the “no man’s land” that formed in front of the stage during VietNam's set. I was a packed house by the time Evan Dando appeared donning a ski cap. The crowd was enthusiastic throughout. There was much fist pumping and raising of the beers. One moment, I kind of wish to forget, had the crowd cheering as enthusiastically for the removal of his ski cap as for any song of the night. He played tracks spanning the last few Lemonheads albums like It’s a Shame about Ray and Tenderfoot. About midway through he went to a solo acoustic set, which consisted of a few tracks off of his most recent solo effort Baby, I’m Bored. This included “Why do you do this to yourself?,” a track which sparked an RFC discussion after Jon Brion performed it, at this year’s Intonation Festival. (The item is still up for debate, I suppose as they apparently get equal billing as composer of the track on allmusic.com.)
During one break between songs, a fan/heckler started shouting, something to the tune of “Where is Jesse Peretz?” To which Dando replied that this was the Lemonheads now and promptly introduced the new bassist. Later the same guy, (according to Dando), shouted out requests for “Mrs. Robinson,” which seemed to visibly bother Dando, but he cheerily played it off with some banter back. For a long time Lemonheads fan, I imagine this would have been a fairly enjoyable show. For someone with my perspective of the band, the show did little to move me from my spot, perched atop the proverbial fence. I prepared to leave as it looked as if a second encore was imminent. I had simply seen enough.
Download: VietNam - "Welcome to My Room"