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The Comas + Vietnam

(16 Feb 2005: Lee's Place — Toronto)


The Comas
Vietnam


Inside Lee’s Palace, a war is being waged by four young men with beards—good ol’ country boys rejuvenated by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s appearance at the Grammys. The name of their band is Vietnam and just like that unsightly blemish on America’s near perfect war record, this conflict still drags on.


A four-piece band of confederate Texans, they moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they were signed by Vice Records. After sauntering down to the pit for an unobstructed view of the band, I understood why the military tries to control reporters’ coverage. Without the protection of the Vice hype train, I discovered the truth and bring it back to the citizens at home: Vietnam is easily the most underwhelming band on the label’s roster.


As the band plays, a girl to my left pipes her discontent, “These guys are fucking terrible.” Maybe that’s a little much. Best I can tell, Vietnam is a mediocre jam band that plays stoner rock. Every song is an epic; thus deserving of the seven-minute treatment. As for the music, it’s a wall of distorted sound warped by psychedelia, drenched in moonshine, and soaked in the blues. My bet is that the lead singer, a scraggly looking thing with a shaggedelic beard, goes home and worships a Bob Dylan shrine. He’s an ardent mumble master.


Most songs sound suspiciously like the one previous and there’s almost no separation between chorus and verse. The worst part comes when the two-minute breakdown ends: You assume it’s all over and the troops are ready to pull out, but then they launch into another minute-and-a-half jam forcing the girl on my left to don her headphones in disgust.


At the end of their set, the shorthaired, handlebar mustache-wearing fellow makes it evident who they are behind all the Dylan/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Grateful Dead posturing by yelling, “We’ve got tie dye!” How did I miss this? Vietnam is the new Phish, and I thought no one liked jam bands anymore.


When the Comas’ lead singer Andy Herod lost his girlfriend of two years—that chick from Dawson’s Creek that no one cared about—the deeply personal conductor was born from the solitude. Fitting, then, that he’d start the show with a solo performance of a love song, hypnotizing everyone in attendance. It was captivating, delivering us into a melancholy state, as all eyes became crazy-glued to the stage. Enter the backing members, stage left. Now a quintet, the presence of the additional members added to the necessary emotional discord. The Comas are a fuzzy band—there’s an Unsolved Mysteries/Outer Limits thing at work here, and as a band, it zaps you into the narrative.


Three songs in, I’m spellbound by the rolling, alt-country twang of “moonrainbow”. As Herod and guitarist Nicole Gehweiler’s vocals intertwine in a long-winded embrace, her mic is excessively low, but considering the breakup that preceded this record, it makes perfect sense. Herod’s voice needs to be audible; he’s the heartbroken hero. Gehweiler’s muddled vocals substitute for his ex and fulfill the gaping chasm between former lovers. You’re tempted to wonder what she’s saying, but it’s him you believe.


Most of the tracks seem comfortable in the four to seven minute range. There’s not a lot of guitar noodling in this band, although Gehweiler occasionally goes a little Jimmy Page. Mostly the songs are cut-to-the-chase chords twisted around drowsy organs and slender drumming, all used to deliver broken heart stories as sci-fi angst (“the science of your mind”).


There are slight fuck ups, the odd “wait we’re not going to play that song” or “whoa that guitar is out of tune”, but by covering Ween’s “It’s Gonna Be” the group plays to a stoner sensibility. Overall, the Comas create beautiful tangents, gentle expeditions into rock’s warm, fuzzy place—a place where regret washes over you. No song better describes this than the unabashed optimism of “falling”, in which Herod sings, “I’m stuck here in this room while you’re tethered to the moon, but you will soon come around and I’ll be waiting on the ground…”


With words like that, we’re more than ready to float on with him.

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