Viet Cong. Larimer Lounge. 03.24.15
The Viet Cong was a militant, communist political party that fought in Vietnam during the war from 1955 – 1975. Unimaginable atrocities were committed on both sides of that conflict, leading to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of casualties — many of which can be attributed to the Viet Cong. As the War on Terror continues through its thirteenth year, the Vietnam War (as it is known to Americans) seems to be fading away in the blood splattered rear-view mirror of the war machine. It is literally ancient history to the kids growing up in the post-9/11 world, but there are many among us who remember it all too clearly. Vietnam vets still walk the streets of this country — streets they were sent over there to protect. Many of our parents and grandparents lost loved ones in Vietnam. There is a huge memorial filled with names in our nation’s capital. Anyone who has ever visited Vietnam, or anywhere in SE Asia for that matter, has seen the scars firsthand.
So why did a group of white dudes from Canada name their post-punk band after such a dark period in history? Probably the same reason they named their last band Women. Because they could. It sounded cool. Or it was ironic. Or they saw it on a bumper sticker. Or it was some kind of inside joke. It doesn’t really matter. They don’t make the kind of music you’re going to hear on the radio. If you are offended by their name, you can ignore them. They arn’t hard to avoid. That being said, they might want to rethink how important the name is to them. Oberlin College just cancelled a performance based on how some “Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities” might take offense. The guys in the band released a statement apologizing for being provocative or hurtful — claiming they meant no harm and were naive to the stigma behind it — making them seem uneducated at worst. That being said, they haven’t mentioned anything about changing the name of the band. And if last night’s turn-out at Larimer Lounge is any indication, I seriously doubt they’ll need to.
Viet Cong shows were selling out months ahead of time prior to SXSW, so I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get a ticket for last night’s show. Luckily I purchased one online early in the day. By the time I arrived the line was out the door and the sign read SOLD OUT. As is the way with sold-out shows at Larimer Lounge, it was hot and stuffy and you could barely move in the main room. Even the opening band, What Moon Things (a name I find more offensive than Viet Cong), had a crowd extending out to the main bar.
It was 11:15pm by the time the boys from Calgary took the stage. It was a thousand degress in the tiny venue and I was up against the wall trying to find the space to move my arm is such a way that my beer could reach my mouth. As Matt addressed the sardines as “Denverites and Denvarians”, I could only catch glimpses of the band through the random movement of people in front of me. The rumors from SXSW about Mike’s hand turned out to be true. “We’ve got a drummer with a fucking broken hand, so we’re just going to do what we can and have some fun.” The drummer broke his distal fifth metacarpal while playing down in Austin and had to power through one-handed. Quite an impressive feat considering how integral percussion is to Viet Cong’s sound. I had a hard time seeing him from my viewpoint in the room, but from what my ears could tell, he pulled it off pretty flawlessly.
The whole band pulled it off. SXSW can be hard on musicians. It has to be hard to get through that week and then travel to play those first couple shows after leaving Austin behind. The guys in Viet Cong didn’t show any signs of fatigue as they powered through a handful of songs from Cassette, before taking things up notch for “Bunker Buster” and “Continental Shelf” from their excellent self-titled album. But it wasn’t until the epic, sprawling, head-fuck of song, “Death”, that everything really came together. As they all stood in a circle, facing their broken drummer, the noise rose to the rafters and threatened to pop the top off the room. It was during that song I realized everything that had come before was just a band going through the motions. “Death” was the first time they felt ALIVE!
Then it was over. They were only six songs and forty minutes into the set and it was all done. It ended on a high note, but I still couldn’t help but feel they would have been better off resting for the night…and I would have been better off listening to their record really loud in my basement.
The name Viet Cong doesn’t bother me. It’s just a name. The music that comes from Matt Flegel, Mike Wallace, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen is dark and aggressive and violent and unhinged — it invokes uncomfortable feelings — so the name kind of makes sense. I find it kind of sad that they didn’t know the history behind the name before adopting it, but at the end of the day it’s only the music that matters. And the music is good. Real good. Their new album is one of the best to be released this year. I hear Menomena, Joy Division, Wolf Parade and iceage in there, but it’s also very much their own sound. I just hope they work on their stage presence and stamina, because that’s the one thing all those other bands have that Viet Cong was lacking last night.
Throw It Away