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Vietnam At The Satellite, Wednesday May 1st 2013, Reviewed

Beirut, Portugal.The Man, Boards of Canada, and Vietnam? These bands are all using the name of a country in their moniker, and it has always been a good surprise for me. However, I had never even heard of the Brooklyn band Vietnam – in my defense they hadn’t done anything in five years or more – and the first song I got to listen to before going to the show, was the mysteriously-lyrically-charged ‘Priest, Poet &The Pig’; when I heard these spacey hazy bluesy guitars in the background, a boogie rhythm that would get you easily dancing, or at least foot tapping, and Michael Gerner’s Dylan-esque commanding and nasal tone, I got immediately interested, the tune was original, intriguing and familiar enough to drag me to the Satellite on a Wednesday night.

The first song you hear from a band is your first impression, your first date, it is a lasting one, and this one was a good lasting one… front row at the Satellite, where a large crowd had gathered after 11 pm, the large band (they were six) took possession of the whole stage like a complete orchestra, with even a violin and a moog synth, before playing long atmospheric bluesy soundscapes that brought the crowd on such a trippy journey that they did not want to come back.

First, I was not sure why they chose this moniker, Vietnam, and I must say that the first idea that came to my mind was not the country, but of course the war and a certain messy period in the US history, so I thought this may have been the idea behind Michael Gerner’s description of his music as ‘apocalyptic street blues’… But live, you could hardly call this blues, if it wasn’t for Nathaneal “Lefty” Maynard’s slide guitar, most of the time it was messy, it meandered in dissonance and distortion, it stretched into passionate jams and it wandered in many directions… to sum it up, there was a lot going on.

Despite the immaculate white suit and the buttonhole white rose that Gerner was wearing, the vibe was very eccentric hippie, with long scruffy beard and hair, on stage and in the crowd. If I was a neophyte, many people in the front knew all the songs from the band’s 2007 self-title album and the new album, just released a few months ago on Mexican Summer, ‘an A.merican D.ream’. Gerner’s move to Los Angeles and his interest in ambient analog synthesizer music for five years, has probably everything to do with these complex and moody circumvolutions, this Velvet-Underground cinematic ambiance translated in his music. Actually, the musicians were less interested by performing the tunes than absorbed at playing jams going all chaotic, treating their songs until they would turn cacophonous and tuneless. The six guys were vacillating, vibrating, tapping, and Gerner was often keeping his eyes closed, as if he wanted to induce long awakenings

‘Fight Water with Fire’ was a Pink Floyd-y druggy trip, ‘Kitchen Kongas’ had an exotic vibe, almost Manu Chao-esque but sung by a bluesy Dylan, ‘Blasphemy Blueswas looking for a muddy swamp crushed by torpor, ‘No Use in Cryin’ was a mix between a drunk song and a gospel blues, ‘Yaz’ was moody and dark and ‘Apocalypse’, during the encore, was a sprawling gypsy slow-burn with Gerner’s best Dylan impression, turning mad preacher.

By the way, regarding their name, I read that Gerner told Rolling Stone, ‘We just wanted a name that had power, I grew up as a military brat and ‘Vietnam’ was a bad word’… Vietnam, plus a song called Apocalypse, this definitively makes a strong impression, and after 10 years, should we call them veterans? Ha, they are currently touring around the country, so look for them, they are well worth it but are hard to find among all these googled Francis Ford Coppola’s movie reviews.

Setlist

Too Tired
Priest Poet & the Pig
Fight Water with Fire
Kitchen Kongas
Blasphemy Blues
Flyin’
No Use in Cryin’
Mama Loi
Yaz

encore
Apocalype

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