Last Thursday’s Viet Cong show came and went at the old familiar Rickshaw Stop. For those who’ve never been to this venue, it’s a great, divey open space that allows for an intimate musical environment… and no, not intimate like that time you played musical chairs with your friends and Jenny sat on your lap accidentally as you beat her to the last seat. It’s the kind of venue where everyone gets the best view, hears every word sung, and every chord strummed.
This was a little bittersweet for opening band Freak Heat Waves – an indie-rock outfit that sounded like Cake on painkillers reciting a Jim Morrison poem, which I say with some awe. Their set was unique, yet a little weird, and gauging the audience’s reaction was tricky. Their quirky combination of krautrock, punk, and funk seemed to be a good fit to open for the quickly rising Calgary post-punk entourage Viet Cong. Oddly enough, the last time these bands came through the Bay Area on the same bill, Freak Heat Waves headlined the show and Viet Cong opened. As Viet Cong bassist and singer, Matt Flegel hilariously stated, “That show was better, but this is fine too.”
Just after Freak Heat Waves finished up, the real freak heat wave rolled in– I swear a hundred more people piled into the venue to see Viet Cong. As they casually took the stage, it became immediately clear these guys are complete goofballs and awesome friends off-stage. After tossing a beer to a lucky audience member, Flegel proclaimed, “we’re feeling a little loose tonight.” Their silly chemistry was contagious and everyone was giddy for them to begin as they made a few jokes about actually getting to the point and beginning their set.
They opened the set with “Throw It Away,” the beachy, sun-drenched first track on their much-praised Cassette EP. The next hour was packed with rocking heads, sing-a-longs, and hearty laughs between songs. At one point, drummer Mike Wallace smilingly yelled at the band to tighten up because they’re playing “like shit” and threw his shirt at his bandmates. They responded by throwing the shirt into the crowd. There was no swooning teenage spaz to catch it– they’re not that famous, yet.
The fun, loose energy of the headbanging “Bunker Buster” (from the recently released Viet Cong LP) midway through the set gave way to an unexpectedly dark, industrial dissonance before they transitioned into album centerpiece “March of Progress.” For three straight minutes, we heard nothing but a deafening bass note accompanied by a chopping, grinding synth which caused the entire venue to shake like a helicopter hovering directly overhead. The extended polyrhythmic intro and near absence of stage lighting sucked all the oxygen out of the room, setting the song up perfectly for the the contrast of the guitarists’ bright, dual-attack arpeggios to breathe fresh life back into the venue. It felt like watching a flower suddenly breaking through a concrete sidewalk into the sunlight.
Before playing acclaimed lead single “Continental Shelf,” Matt asked the crowd about guitarist Scott “Monty” Munro’s crystal-clear guitar, used for only this one song. Yes, this thing was completely see-thru and he simply asked “is this ridiculous or not? Well, it doesn’t really matter what you think… he’s gonna play it anyway.” The band like to have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously– a nice quality when playing music that stacks disparate and sometimes jarring elements of post-punk, surf rock, and destructive noise against one another.
Viet Cong – “Silhouettes” (Live at Rickshaw Stop, from YouTube member Omar Lee)
Matt forgoes the higher vocal registers found on their LP and used a grungy, raspy voice to belt the choruses, while Monty’s synth continued to blare between riffs as he quickly changes instruments. The band played a tight set but still felt unpredictable, jumping from dark and menacing to bright and carefree. The discordant, yet poppy sounds blaring through the amps were reminiscent of Ariel Pink and Deerhunter, but they’ve made them all their own. I almost wish these guys would pull a Broken Social Scene and create an indie-rock supergroup with the talented dudes from Cloud Nothings.
The band had everyone by the balls during galloping show closer “Death,” a noisy 11+ minute opus which concluded with broken guitar straps, splintered drumsticks, and lots of sweat on the ground.
These guys rock and put on a great show. We were fortunate to have seen them in such a small venue– Lord knows they’ll be too big to play in a small environment when they return. Maybe someone will catch their shirt next time? Maybe.
You can buy Viet Cong’s self-titled LP here.
Catch Viet Cong on tour here.
Photos by Dace James Hines
Review by Carlos Chavarria and Dace James Hines