Vietnam: Uninspired, Uninspiring
I make a face, nod. I turn and look at the stage. The drummer goes into another very long snare roll. Impressively thick and busy bass riffs propel the bright guitars. The singer offers his lines with a Lou Reed-ish rhythm, a Clay Reed-ish warble, and a Bob Dylan-ish conviction.
"And this," he continues, referring to the band on stage, "ain't good songwriting."
At least we're in from the cold. The crowd is large on this Friday night in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I look around, trying to gauge the overall level of enjoyment, as if my eyes are some sort of thermometer for that type of thing. My mind devises a formula. The number of bobbing heads added to the number of kissing couples subtracted by the number of backs turned added to the number of faces made. Outside, the wind is a tearjerker.
"This," he decides, "is a load of horseshit."
I make a face, nod. The band on stage is Vietnam, the club is Southpaw, and I'm there with Robert Baird. Four songs in, we're unimpressed and waiting for something good to happen. I'd read the reviews. They'd become almost unavoidable; even Stereophile had given the new album three and a half stars. So, I was definitely curious. And, while I don't think my hopes were set too high, I wasn't in an overly skeptical mood, either. On this Friday night, I was ready to have a good time.
The band, however, did not help me out. In fact, this was one of the worst live shows I've ever attended. Perhaps the very worst. Vietnam stands still, playing their songs as if they've already played them far too many times. The more I watch, the more it becomes clear to me that the songs hold no power over the musicians. The poor songs, simple as they are, haven't the ability to inspire. They go nowhere. They're crippled, bridgeless, verse verse verse and done. And beyond even this, Vietnam plays their songs as though the crowd doesn't exist. There is no connection. No exchange of energy. Nothing. And I'm wondering:
Why are they doing this? On a Friday night, to a packed house, at a good venue, why are they doing this? And why am I here? If they don't care, why should I? I'd rather be home, reading my book on codependency. If they're not playing for us, and they're not playing for themselves, who are they playing for? If Vietnam's songs can't even inspire Vietnam, then what's the point?
As we leave the club and enter the blindingly cold night, I find an answer: If it doesn't move you, there is no point.
As much as I can't stand the cold, at least it'll get me home.