Quirky, Rousing Music at the Merc

September 25th, 2009

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band – Mercury Lounge – September 24, 2009

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
It’s the peanut butter and jelly effect, when the combination of two opposing flavors has the most interesting results. Heading up the late set last night at Mercury Lounge, Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band juxtaposed bits of music that seemingly have as much in common as, well, Mt. St. Helens and Vietnam. The peanut butter was a raffish punk rock—volume, jump-in-place energy and vocals verging on screaming—while the jelly was an afrobeat—bulbous bass, dance-’em-up rhythms and plucked guitar melodies.

These influences were obscured under a blanket of somewhat illogical song structure as the band played liberally with the concepts of tempo and volume. Watching MSHVB play is like an exercise in some sort of rock and roll Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Once you think you’ve nailed down what they’re doing, the beat would change, the volume would drop or raise a few decibels or the song would stop altogether somewhat surprisingly. After the initial unsettling feeling of watching such whiplash, the experience became plenty satisfying: seeing the band go in and out of synch with the drummer and trying to dance along without going out of phase with the music. There were a duplicate floor tom and snare drum at the front of the stage where various band members would copy the drummer’s efforts, creating a wonderful sonic resonance.

The band smartly closed with the best track from their self-titled release, “Albatross, Albatross, Albatross.” It was a microcosm of the MSHVB aesthetic—starting off nearly a cappella, flipping into a multitempo booty-shaker and then fizzling into a false ending before a short drum-led breakdown that exploded into a furious rage of guitars, bass and drums. The explosion stopped as quickly as it started and ended with the bass drum on the floor in front of the stage and the band’s lone female, Traci Eggleston, shaking these goofy, homemade tambourine sticks. Better add some honey and banana to that PB&J. —A. Stein