Photos by Carrie Johnston
[A] prominent downtown venue on a warm Saturday attracts all species of night crawlers. Due to this, nothing exclusive or particular about VietNam playing at Dante’s on such a night struck me. The noncommittal crowd was thin to begin with, then fattened when VietNam started, and mostly disappeared before the end. Save for the second opener, Small Arms, the whole experience– the crowd, the music, the low red lights, the air… was like the low hum of a car engine on a three-hour highway jaunt. The most desolate moments were during Daydream Machine’s set with their psychedelic moon-gaze rock that winded-in the most spaced out strands of Sonic Youth and Leonard Cohen circa I’m Your Man territory. Even during Small Arms’ relatively upbeat garage rock jams, half the crowd retreated into tables and booths on the outskirts of the stage area. Some out-of-towners I talked to asked where they should go to hear “music that wasn’t shitty.” I told them that VietNam was top notch and they should stick it out. I guess they didn’t believe me…
The tour was on the heels of VietNam’s new album, An A.merican D.ream; a collection of songs influenced by songwriter Michael Gerner’s time making film scores in LA as well as the residual psychedelic-blues-rock prevalent in previous albums. The lineup includes a violin and keyboardist, which add fresh texture to a sound that might otherwise be undesirably similar to said previous work.
The band sauntered on stage nearly undetected after a two-hour long slog through forgettable openers. A tentative crowd stood a safe five feet from the stage, leaving plenty of room for girlfriends of the band members to film the whole set from whichever angle they wished. Amongst the un-shy, were two older gentlemen who appeared to be in the midst of a monumental life-change spurred by VietNam itself. Maybe that’s what crazy people always look like at concerts. The two men, one in a black wicker cowboy hat and Led Zeppelin shirt, the other in a sleeveless muscle tee, swayed together, clapped each other’s back, hi-fived, shot their tongues out, and devil-signed the band in a dizzying cycle that could have only been ignited by alcohol and psychological squalor. These men’s antics, sadly, were more fun to watch than the band.
I took a gamble on this concert, thinking that what I’d heard of VietNam was intriguing enough to warrant attendance of a live performance. But overall it was neither captivating nor electrifying, and with six musicians on stage, the volume became so enormous that no one and nothing stood out. So I left after the show, which ended abruptly with no encore or goodbye or fireworks whatsoever, feeling nothing other than an intense desire to escape that faceless swarm of night crawlers and retreat home.