Words by: Kayceman :: Images by: Josh Miller

The Black Angels & VietNam :: 05.30.07 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Ivan Berko - VietNam :: 05.30 :: SF, CA
Rock & roll is a dirty, desperate, beautiful beast. She's stolen lives and saved them. She's the blood that courses through the veins of men who rarely sleep and dream wide-awake of fantastical worlds found in fretboards and amps. There aren't too many bands around in 2007 that truly live the fabled rock & roll life but the members of Brooklyn's (by way of Austin and Philadelphia) VietNam are living the dream. But when you live this close to the edge sometimes you tumble over. VietNam fell hard on this particular evening.

Everything about VietNam is a throwback to days long gone. The much talked about hair, the brilliant songwriting, the name, the delivery, and yes, the lifestyle. Watching the four-piece perform their dark-blue brand of intense, jangle-y rock at San Francisco's Independent it was bands like Velvet Underground and Exile-era Stones that blurred through the mind.

Josh Grubb - VietNam :: 05.30
Although they kept it together for a good portion of the set, it was clear that guitarist Josh Grubb had been burning the candle pretty hard. Predominantly featuring material from the band's stellar 2007 self-titled debut, singer-guitarist Michael Gerner led the band through strong renditions of "Priest, Poet & The Pig," "Apocalypse" and a highly enjoyable "Mr. Goldfinger" with Grubb struggling to keep pace. As bassist Ivan "Sunshine" Berko and drummer Mike Foss propelled the band through thick beats with piercing shiny guitar (courtesy of Gerner), the band lumbered into an expansive "Step On Inside;" and this is when things turned bizarre.

Out of nowhere, Grubb, who was barely playing his guitar at this point, dropped to one knee and started messing with his wires. He was obviously confused, but managed to hook a little hand-held Nintendo DS through his pick-ups and started rolling around on the stage pressing buttons and making noise. With Grubb on his belly things unraveled quickly. Gerner walked over and turned off Grubb's amp. Grubb turned it back on. Off, on. Off, on. Shit was getting really weird and it was clear the band was completely pissed off at Grubb. Somehow Gerner was able to keep the train rolling - dude was like a calm Buddha in the eye of the storm - but when Grubb got off the ground and tried to start playing guitar the whole thing imploded.

Grubb rolling on floor - Berko on bass
05.30 :: SF, CA
As the band basically performed as a three-piece, Grubb grabbed the mic and asked "This one's in 'E' right?" That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Foss dropped his drumsticks and walked off stage. Berko grabbed his guitar case and started packing up. All of this was going on as Gerner was playing guitar and Grubb played a sloppy melody. Realizing it was beyond repair, Gerner slid off stage, leaving Grubb to wallow in the mess he'd made. The house manager flashed his light and told the sound guy to kill it. Grubb sheepishly addressed the crowd: "I guess that's the end of the show," and walked off stage.

The Black Angels :: 05.30 :: SF, CA
People stood mouth's agape as a mix of laughter and shock poured out. In my fifteen years of chasing rock & roll around the world I've never seen a bigger train wreck. As messy and unprofessional as it was, there was something mystifying about it. It's hard to understand why we're drawn to the gory aftermath of an accident and it's difficult to comprehend why we stare at the blood stained windows, yet we do. If it happened again it would be flat-out unacceptable, but for now we'll happily add it to the long list of legendary rock meltdowns.

Stephanie Bailey - The Black Angels
05.30 :: SF, CA
After the dust had settled, Austin's Black Angels came on. Featuring six people and a massive, slow-churning psychedelic warhorse of a sound, when the Angels plugged in the air became thick and heavy. Although the demeanor of the band members, the manner in which they play and the style of music they crank out is vastly different from VietNam, both bands embrace the drugged out sounds of the 60s. In fact, The Black Angels even took their name from The Velvet Underground's "The Black Angel's Death Song." But where VietNam has built a salacious reputation for walking the walk, the Angels seem to focus all their energy on the music.

Throughout the set drummer Stephanie Bailey kept a steady, patient beat, constantly resisting the urge to let loose or force the spotlight in her direction. The same could be said about every member of the band. They play with eyes closed, hide in the shadows and often face one another. It's a ritualistic, spiritual thing not unlike a Native American tribal ceremony. There are no traditional "look at me" guitar solos, though Christian Bland is their secret weapon, capable of setting his six string ablaze when the moment calls for it.

The Black Angels :: 05.30 :: SF, CA
Members trade instruments and bandleader-vocalist Alex Mass shakes a tambourine or plays guitar, channeling the music, letting it pass through him, as Jennifer Raines creates a constant, murky foundation with her drone machine/organ. When not messing with keyboards or playing guitar, Kyle Hunt hammers a giant floor tom that shook bones. This is a band that is truly greater than sum of its parts. It's not any one person or any specific sound; it's all of them working together crafting a landscape that pulls the listener in.

The music of The Black Angels is all tonal shifts - huge movements like tides or waves across an ocean or storm clouds coming over mountains. Amidst the primal beats featured on the band's incredible 2006 debut, Passover, there were a few new songs as well as a completely freaky rendition of the Beatle's "Tomorrow Never Knows" and a stellar show-closing cover of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."

Turn on, tune in, drone out - it's not only the band's catch phrase, it's the mantra their music lives on.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 6/4/07]

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drubin14 starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 04:47PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


"The music of The Black Angels is all tonal shifts - huge movements like tides or waves across an ocean or storm clouds coming over mountains."

Caught them in Portland and I could not have come up with a better written description. This is why, my friend, you get paid the big bucks ;-)

TK starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 05:00PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


welcome to Trainwreck City, Vietnam. Way to go, pro.

Thank the devil that the Black Angels could save the day with their tonal dronal machine.

DeadKennyG starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 05:43PM
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Austin represent!!

Tan starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 05:58PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


It's a long way, to the top, if you're rolling around on the ground playing your Nintendo DS, and your band is still playing rock n' roll.

radarlin starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/4/2007 08:21PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Kayceman you are absolutely my favorite writer on jambase. Thank you for the wonderful and entertaining reviews of bands i have been following and wanting to see for a while. Between your reviews of Vietnam, Black Angles, The Mars Volta, and Widespread Panic I can't wait to read more. Also THANK YOU for covering such a wide range of music!

Love my Kayceman (your in my zone)!

GrantedProductions starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/5/2007 03:01AM
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the angels reign SUPREME!

Daddyphatsacks starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/5/2007 11:44AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Best review I've read in awhile (and I hadn't even heard of these bands). Thanks for the colorful reading. To your credit I'd check-out the Black Angels when they roll through. As for NietNam. Well, as you said, biggest train wreck ever. I don't spend money to waste my time.

Benjamin Human starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/5/2007 12:06PM
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Benjamin Human

sounds like going to a doors show and seeing morrison just stumbling around stage with the band playing in disgust.

knibbs Tue 6/5/2007 03:52PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I didn't know i could pug in my DS to an amp and make noises! AK47-good shit, as always.

mcmanust Tue 6/5/2007 07:40PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I wish I caught this show. Both bands rock the shit.

All Loving Liberal White Guy Wed 6/6/2007 11:17AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

All Loving Liberal White Guy

Being hairy rules.

onlyheat starstarstarstar Wed 6/6/2007 09:27PM
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yeah, that's pretty much how it went down. VietNam: huge dissapointment. "coulda been a contenda!" Black Angels: everything Kayce plus a sick projection display (as seen in the photos above).

joshmillerphoto starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/6/2007 10:21PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


you hit the nail on the head, kayce. good work! the guy standing next to me had come to the Independent to see Vietnam and after that performance (if you can call it that), dude could be heard yelling "Vietnam robbed me of my $15! REFUND!". He didn't even know who The Black Angels were.

aquariumdrunk starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/8/2007 07:18AM
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Excellent review!

I think the Angels will be one of those perfect Thursday night shows at Roo this year. As for VietNam, the anticipation I had for their live show has taken a serious blow.

briank67 Sat 6/9/2007 02:24PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


cool review, cool vid granted...
i love the black angels ("passover" is an awesome album) and i'm pissed that everytime they come to chicago it's a 21+ show. they're playing lolla, mayyyybe i'll check that out

joshjones starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/8/2008 03:41PM
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I cannot believe they kicked out their DRONE MACHINE????? Thought they were all about the drone? Turn In, Tune On, Drone Out! <----get another slogan dudes and while your at it get one that is not stolen!