The unrelenting rhythms and grungy lyricism in Viet Cong’s self-titled (2015) encourage the idea that their live performance would be equally intensive; expecting their eyes fixed on a point about the crowd and barely breaking the disposition that fits their darker lyricisms, the band’s performance was not what was preempted.
At their second time performing at Rickshaw Stop with Viet Cong, opening act Freak Heat Waves fit more neatly into a paradigm of the genre of the night’s lineup. Freak Heat Waves’ time signatures shifted unpredictably, frontman Steven Lind’s delivery was deadpan, and his lyrics were of a punk-sentiment commenting on a lifestyle of “excess, as a symbol of success.” Although the style of the opener did not surprise us, the quality of song-writing and overall cohesion of the band members was exciting for a supporting act — or any act in general. In a few years, we could see this band with the recognition of similar act, Parquet Courts.
In an unusual gesture and wearing a shirt printed with the word “free,” Matthew Flegel of Viet Cong began to introduce his band instead of immediately playing and creating the sort of mystery that accompanies many post-punk bands upon arrival. He was seemingly ecstatic to be present, pointing out guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen and drummer Mike Wallace, previously a member of Women with Flegel, to the audience. Then he said, “I’m Matt, and I’m going to do this and this,” waving dismissively at his microphone and bass, as if he didn’t take them seriously.
By now it was more apparent that Rickshaw Stop was sold out, but for a venue at capacity, the air was surprisingly still and cold. The band opened with “Throw it Away,” the crowd static and attentive. While the movement was at a somnambulant speed, a silent sort of energy spread across the floor as Viet Cong played through tracks “Unconscious Melody,” “Oxygen Feed,” and “Silhouettes.”
The tracks were broken up by commentary from the band that displayed their easygoing personas at Rickshaw Stop Thursday night. They mentioned everything from not liking circular mic stands to having played Rickshaw Stop last year and only having “six people show up.” Flegel asked if Munro’s clear guitar was “cool or lame;” the crowd could not settle that debate. Someone in the audience offered a comparison of the instrument to something a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s member would sport — a dig to the resin-cast guitar.
“Continental Shelf,” one of the more catchy tracks from their latest album, engrossed the entire house. Phone cameras were put away and there was a general stillness in the face of the involuntary rhythms and habitual lyrics. A few in the audience could be heard singing along, seen alongside a few bobbing heads, but most stayed attentive as the band melted in and out of the mechanical and melodic, their transitions sounding better defined live than in their recorded works. The mood was that of an anti-mosh pit, yet every bit punk. In this reversal of our expectations, the demeanor of the audience was more representative of Viet Cong.
The set ended with 11-minute track “Death”: “What does deep midnight’s voice contend / Deeper than day can comprehend?” and other lyrics contemplated the knowledge gained through an experience of loss. The band waned in and out of melodies with neither distinct beginnings nor satisfying conclusions, reinforcing the ambiguous lyrics — availing the listener of closure at each internal phrase or turn. After, the audience attempted to applaud for an encore, but holistically, “Death” was a sure ending.
And just as oddly as Viet Cong arrived, Rickshaw Stop filtered out quickly, leaving the cold air and empty stage still once again soon after the band departed.
Article and photos by Penelope Leggett