Canadian post-punk group Viet Cong have received a ton of hype in 2015, receiving Pitchfork’s Best New Music title following the release of their self-titled album in January. Recently the buzz turned a bit negative, with Oberlin College pulling the plug on a band’s scheduled appearance due to the band’s name. I’m not sure Oberlin College knew what they’d be missing.
On Friday, March 13 Viet Cong brought their live show to Thalia Hall in Chicago, put on as part of the inaugural Chicago edition of Levitation Fest (formerly Austin Psych Fest). The festival’s two-day stint at Thalia Hall brought in a heavy mix of music from Atlas Sound to recently-reunited British post-punk band, The Pop Group.
Viet Cong took the stage at around 10pm on Friday the 13th, and immediately shook any nerves I had of being let down by inflated expectations.
In today’s prog-rock and post-punk genres, too often are bands disengaging with the audience, frequently alienating their listeners. This can sometimes serve to a band’s advantage, letting their music and live set speak for itself. On the flip side, too much babbling can anger fans who only came to watch a band play the music they’re being paid to play. Viet Cong found a pleasurable middle ground Friday, with lead singer and bassist Matt Flegl sprinkling in digs about guitarist Scott Munro’s hair, praise for Thalia Hall’s beauty, and a great amount of gratitude for those who came to watch.
As an album, Viet Cong’s self-titled full-length crescendos with greatness as you move through its 7 tracks spanning just over 40 minutes, and their live set was equally as impressive. Hearing tracks like “Bunker Buster” and “Continental Shelf” were worth the price of admission alone. Flegl’s vocals were crisp and sounded amazing, an area I was concerned about heading in to the show, fearing that the band’s heavy instrumentation and reverb would drown him out. But as Flegl yelled out the lyrics to “Continental Shelf:” “Don’t want to face the world / it’s suffocating, suffocating / Undesirable circumstances / I can’t feel, no I can’t feel” the aggressive nature held within the song was felt throughout Thalia Hall, his voice serving as an epicenter.
The guitar and drum work were astounding as well, each clearly heard and felt by all who came to watch. Munro’s impressive 12-string guitar work blew me away, and the chemistry within the group was displayed as drummer Mike Wallace pounded his drum set while taking cues from his fellow bandmates (which included Wallace and guitarist Daniel Christiansen jokingly spitting at one another).
Viet Cong’s show, much like the album, reached the pinnacle of its crescendo on the band’s final song for the evening, “Death,” an 11-minute epic song that puts an amazing bookend on the album and their Levitation-Chicago set. It was a fitting display of the group’s chemistry in a live setting, each band member carefully watching another, taking cues from each other, while guitarist Munro fell to the ground only to rise again multiple times while annihilating the 12 strings on his guitar.
The group will embark to SXSW later this week, undoubtedly returning from their showcases with even more buzz. Viet Cong are on the rise, make sure to catch them as they play the small clubs on their upcoming tour… they’ll surely be playing larger venues in the very near future. Check out the tour dates in the image below, which includes a set at Pitchfork Music Festival (not shown).