- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sean Lennon, son of the late John Lennon and Yoko Ono, may be the first person in history to utter the following words: “I was thrilled to turn 30.”

In his defense, the artist is coming off a few rough years.

First, he learned that his girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend. Then, said best friend perished in a motorcycle accident before they could reconcile. In a September interview with Time Out New York, Mr. Lennon said the death of his buddy, a friend since childhood, tested him in ways he hasn’t been since his father’s murder.

It makes sense, then, that the musician would want to move beyond this period of his life and enter another, hopefully better one.

“I was very happy to say goodbye to my youth,” he says.. “I wasn’t one of those all-together teenagers, and I feel like this [current] chapter of my life is turning out to be the best yet. It just seems that everything is moving in a positive direction.”

Most of this upward trajectory can be credited to the singer-songwriter’s return to the studio and the resulting “Friendly Fire,” his first solo record in eight years (It’s packaged with an accompanying DVD that contains theatrical versions of the “attack.”) Already, critics have lauded the work, a much deeper, more introspective album than his 1998 debut.

On tracks such as “Dead Meat” and “Falling Out of Love,” Mr. Lennon’s silky voice (eerily similar to his father’s) and airy instrumentation belie the raw turf he covers. In the title track, he croons, “You launched the assault with the first cannonball/My soldiers were sleeping,” while twinkling keyboards and a high hat’s fuzz create a pretty and rather upbeat-sounding backdrop.

The musician doesn’t regret taking so long to find this new musical equation.

“Eventually,” he explains, “I was going to put out a record, and I’m glad that I waited. I’m happier having put out [1998’s] ‘Into the Sun’ and ‘Friendly Fire’ than having put out five albums before this one. It took a certain level of experience [this time].”

Not that he’s been twiddling his thumbs in the interim. He kept his calendar filled with collaborations, playing in Cibo Matto, recording with Prince Paul’s Handsome Boy Modeling School, and collaborating with many other artists — from his mom to Ben Lee.

Mr. Lennon says these artistic relationships have been invaluable, particularly the one with his mother. “She’s the greatest artist I’ve ever worked with,” he boasts. “I think that she seems like Obe-Wan Kenobi, and I’m Luke Skywalker.”

Luke, er, Sean Lennon, will perform at the Birchmere on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

VietNam ramps up

Brooklyn-based band VietNam may have just graced the cover of FADER magazine, but a growing media presence does not translate quickly to a life of luxury.

When we call lead guitarist Josh Grubb’s cell phone, for example, he answers from behind the wheel of a tour van. (Nope, no hired driver yet.) He’s navigating the foursome from one Midwest gig to another — through a snowstorm. A bad one.

“It almost looks like the gateway to hell,” says lead singer and rhythm guitarist Michael Gerner, who temporarily assumes interview duties while Mr. Grubb tries not to get everyone killed.

Later, when the maelstrom has subsided a bit, Mr. Grubb grabs the phone again and begins recounting an interview the previous evening, when a radio host asked if the magazine cover was a dream come true for the psychedelic rockers. Mr. Grubb laughs while recalling his response: “A dream come true is getting a tour bus. Hopefully next year, if the record does well.”

Returning to the present (and still driving), his voice arcs upward to an optimistic peak. “We’re working on it,” he says.

“VietNam,” their eponymous full-length debut, due out on Kemado Records in January, has a lot riding on “the record.” So far, they only have an EP called “The Concrete’s Always Grayer on the Other Side of the Street” to show for their four years together. The new album is a chance to prove that — despite their beards, long locks, gritty guitar riffs and Lou Reed-inspired vocals — they’re not just a throwback.

So far, converts include Maroon 5’s Mickey Madden, who signed on to executive produce and finance the album, “Farmer Dave” Scher and Jason Lader, who rounded out the record’s production team — and even indie darling Jenny Lewis, who laid down guest vocals for the disc and later invited the group to tour with her.

Form your own opinion tonight, when VietNam and Hymns open for a real ‘90s throwback, Evan Dando’s Lemonheads, at the Black Cat. Doors open at 8 p.m.

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