Vietnam was a good thing. Not the war, mind you -- more like the Brooklyn band with the Old Testament beards and smoke ring riffs, which drew a sold-out record release crowd to New York's Mercury Loun

Vietnam was a good thing. Not the war, mind you -- more like the Brooklyn band with the Old Testament beards and smoke ring riffs, which drew a sold-out record release crowd to New York's Mercury Lounge on Jan. 23. Arriving several lineups, cities and years after the group's flophouse formation and bittersweet Vice EP, the quartet's self-titled debut draws as much from the syllable-slurring beat poetry of Bob Dylan as it does from barroom brawls and the kaleidoscopic psych rock era Vietnam was apparently exhumed from.

Seriously, these guys look and play like they were beamed from the basement of "That '70s Show" after an extended smoke-out session. Maybe that's why Conrad Keely (the ticking time bomb at the helm of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead) and a towering Gibby Haynes (the flame-throwing, acid-damaged frontman of Butthole Surfers) could both be seen among the Mercury Lounge crowd, nodding along with the loose-limbed hooks and flare-up guitars of "Mr. Goldfinger," "Priest, Poet & the Pig" and "Apocalypse."

At least until the startling "don't call us hippies" climax of "Welcome to My Room," a slow-to-searing splatter painting of distorted, driving chords and sucker punch percussion patterns. That one snapped everyone out of a stoned (natural or not) slumber and turned the room into a sea of dilated stares. What followed was a first for this reviewer: drunken demands for an "encore" from the supporting act. (Even though the show was Vietnam's record release party, A.R.E. Weapons held down headliner duties.) Slightly stunned and clearly confused, Vietnam answered the plea with a pair of white-knuckled, blissfully bare-boned rock songs.

Three plastic beer cups away from Billboard, A.R.E. Weapons' fate was prefaced with the harsh concertgoer comment "This place is going to be a ghost town in 20 minutes." Which it was, aside from a mosh pit of bros -- yes, a mosh pit, which sent stale draughts flying during a cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Vietnam" -- and several pockets of people too drunk to save themselves from what was essentially incredibly awful rap-metal with a Wax Trax backbeat. Weren't these guys once the toast of the town and NME -- cocksure leaders of the electro-clash movement complete with Chloe Sevigny's brother on keys and backup vocals? Indeed, and they just proved why that scene was almost as short-lived as the ska and swing revivals.

"Any whiskey drinkers in the crowd?" asked vocalist Brain F. McPeck at one point. All we've got to say is "Yes, please."