Viet Cong would have a hard time coming up with a better post-punk origin story than the one they lived. In 2010 the Calgary-based rock band Women went on an indefinite hiatus after an onstage fight. When that band’s guitarist Christopher Reimer died in 2012, (group consists of vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace from Women as well as guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen), Flegel decided to form a new band with Munro, later recruiting Wallace and Christiansen.
A psychedelic post-punk group with a highly cultivated sense of musicianship, Viet Cong, released their self-titled debut album (which was recorded in a barn studio in rural Ontario, because, of course it was) in January of this year. I checked out their most recent Toronto show at The Opera House this past weekend (kudos to whoever on the payroll decided on the free east end show, which quickly “sold out” in pre-sale tickets, along with most shows on their current tour).
I arrive slightly after the opener’s set has begun and am grateful to have dressed relaxed. As is the custom of the day, everyone is showing off by what extent they are dressed like shit. The crowd looks.. plaid. Lots of plaid, accessorized with few visible emotions and beards. So many kinds of beards. Complimented by a vast array of microbangs.
Everyone looks like they are either 14 or 47 but are all probably in their mid-twenties, and most are displaying carefully cultivated expressions of amiable apathy.
The opener, RLMDL, is pretty okay. Crooning vocals over static set to a melody isn’t everyone’s thing, though. I brought my friend with me and one of the phrases passed between us was “like Passion Pit’s first attempt at a song”, but we might have been overly critical due to restlessness, and whatever, I like Passion Pit.
Hard to tell whether the crowd is into them or not. They received lukewarm applause, but the tepid response could have been a measured yet glowing reception from this crowd.
The venue becomes much fuller after RLMDL leaves the stage.
A decent portion of the crowd is beginning to shed their couldn’t-care-less personas and actual smiles of anticipation are appearing as the stage is reset.
The songs, as well as the crowd’s warmth of reception, are slow to build but strong. The psychedelic riffs and reverb remind me of a kind of beach punk 70’s-era Oasis.
The crowd is enthusiastic between sips of PBR and whiskey and I have seen refreshingly few phone screens up. I get the feeling anyone who did have theirs out would be this crowd (‘this crowd’: fighting an eternal battle between authenticity and irony, most ending up somewhere in the middle – like the two guys behind me, one of whom I hear mention is drinking Coors light ‘ironically’. A few minutes later I see the two of them take an ‘ironic’ selfie with their beers, laugh at the screen as if they’ve just read something hilarious, then look away in what can only be described as shame when our eyes meet.
Flegel attempts banter: “I hope no one is getting punched in the face right now.” The crowd doesn’t respond so he elaborates, “At our last show, someone got punched in the face.” The crowd, again, refuses to recognize this as a joke or whatever it is, and he goes into “March of Progress’” heavy, droning opening keyboard chords which lead into another heavy yet dreamy psychedelic riff.
Flegel’s vocal power and on-stage stamina are more than impressive. There is some switching and adding of instruments near the end of set. In the middle of the 11-minute “Death,” which closes the album, there is a chaotic, noise punk jam session that eventually built to an impressive climax, led by Flegel, like a runner who saves a reserve tank of energy for the final mile.
No eye contact is made with audience or each other but their focus is mesmerizing. Just when any reasonable person would figure they were spent after the song seems to be winding down, the second half evolves into something even faster and more furious, before ending abruptly to the cheers of an almost euphoric crowd.
It was one of those sets that seemed like hours but also felt like it went by in minutes – a total time warp experience.
Viet Cong are currently on a North American and European tour to promote their debut self-titled album.