The Vietnam War ended, for the U.S. in '73, and Saigon fell in '75, over thirty years ago.
In January of 2007, VietNam released their debut full-length self-titled studio album. So maybe the war wounds have healed or perhaps the statute of limitations are up. After all, the Kennedy brothers (John and Robert) were shot in the '60s and the Dead Kennedys appeared less than 20 years after JFK's demise in Dallas. As the war in Iraq rages on (in '07), one wonders how long it will be before we are met with bands named The Saddams, the Bath Party, Mission Accomplished or the War On Terror.
Of course, having a provocative name is always a good attention grabber (see Dead Kennedys or Single Bullet Theory). The interesting thing here is that VietNam is evocative of a musical strain prevalent during the Vietnam-era, in a talking World War III sort of way. Not only that, the group nails the look; shaggy hair cascading to their shoulders, extensive facial hair (mustaches and beards), clothes with that slept-in look and those vacant stoned-out expressionless faces. This is a band that would fit right in opening for The Band or Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East. But why go retro?
Well, the '60s (which actually bled into the early '70s) has always looked like a cool time - to those who didn't live through it. Those who did, usually have more scars, physical and psychological, than they can count. But the '60s with its heroics and histrionics launched just about every musical style that bands have employed for decades: Folk-Rock, Acid/Psychedelic, Garage (a forerunner of both Punk and Grunge) and Heavy Metal.
Countless bands have mined the '60s or used it as inspiration. The template is already in place. Also, a band can study at what worked and didn't work on the first go round. No point in making the same mistakes unless you're out to prove a point. Also, if you mix and match styles, and do it loosely, or badly enough, you might actually come up with something people think is original. And that's where VietNam landed plying Folk, Electric Blues, Classic Rock and even psychedelic noodling.
VietNam started as a friendship between Gerner and Grubb. Their first attempt at a band, a six piece line-up, failed. They cut back and refocused their efforts on a quartet. Bouncing around the country with stops in Austin, Philly and New York, wherever the rent was cheap and the opportunities most promising, the group finally landed a single shot deal with Vice records.
Following the release of "Concrete Is Always Grayer On The Other Side Of The Street" VietNam was able to secure financial backing from Maroon 5's bassist Mickey Madden, to continue recording. They even got some studio help from Maroon 5 members but it didn't dilute their sound. With the debut album ready to go, VietNam hit the road opening for The Lemonheads.
What would happen if an over-extended Bob Dylan impersonator fronted the Velvet Underground? That is what VietNam sounds like on their eponymous release. They generate a kind of stoned aggressiveness while charging left then undercutting to the right.
"Mr. Goldfinger" establishes the band's tendency to have it both ways. The '60s anti-materialistic vibe shines through but it is countered by a "if you give it to me I'll take it" attitude. "Money and class are just a pain in the ass for me, But if you stick it under my nose, I'll sniff it up and glow in the ecstasy." Much of the album rolls along agreeably enough as the group strolls though righteous themes with guitars. Hey man, it is just like the '60s! They actually rouse themselves here and there with the jaunty Rocker "Gabe" and the kickin' "Welcome To My Room." The latter is the set's premier effort, even outshining Gerner's channeling of John Lennon on "Too Tired."