Viet Cong is a simple but powerful quartet, a four-man firing squad, each one precise and capable of mortal intensity. We have the vocalist and bassist Matt Flegel, drummer Mike Wallace and the two guitarists, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen.
They are Canadian, hailing from the howling prairie city of Calgary.
They arrive late to the concert. Trouble on the border they say. It doesn’t matter, we’re not there for apologies.
The band is post-punk, meaning they carry the velocity and intensity of old guard punk, but broadcast it using non-traditional methods: in their case, they paint with reverb and distortion.
I have no idea how it happens. A chord is strummed, or some piano keys are tapped into a rhythm and suddenly it is broken into something else entirely. A riff becomes the beating blades of a chopper; cymbal crashes crescendo into a static swell.
There they are twisting knobs and tweaking the molten noise into something usable and melodic. When the sounds have been set in place, the band puts their weight onto it to see if it will hold and then sprints into action. That preplaced ambience is as fragile as a sand castle and will crumble away within minutes – in fact it always does.
After every song the reverb loops created run wild, gathering momentum and surging into massive waves of noise and vibration. The sound system at the Space Gallery is panoramic and when the musical tides break through their barriers they hit you from every direction like an ambush. Standing there, you feel your ribs shake and your diaphragm tremble with each booming blast of music-no-more. Punk concerts tend to follow a set course of events: you throw your head about, you stomp, scream along. But this musical residue has no formula, you can’t interact with a rhythm-less mess, you can only stand there and take it, feel yourself tossed about, helpless, in a current nobody can control until the beast is put down by a merciful guitar blast.
“Continental Shelf” is the crowd favorite. It’s a deceptively pop-punk mesh of cloudy static backgrounds, air siren guitar breaks and echoing, diamond-sharp synths. Of all the Viet Cong tracks, this is the most melodic. This is the song you can sing along to and they know it, climaxing the concert at this point before winding down with a swan song.
The band’s exit theme is the eleven-minute, coup de grace “Death,” a literal show-stopper. The two guitarists interlock simple melodies into a combative weave and wait for Wallace’s rapid-fire snare work to join the fray. So far, the song is raging along like a jungle battle. When Flegel begins to sing, his vocals helicopter above the violence – languid and depressed, but on patrol. After finding his mark though, he dives in and delivers his lines with ruthless harshness before backing out and re-allowing the ground forces to move in. Five of the eleven minutes are voiceless, propelled by a steadily increasing instrumental panic. It picks up, faster, fiercer. This goes on for three minutes and slowly the blurry madness focuses into a stomping, gritty death march.
Flegel, Munro, and Christiansen are leaning into one another, sweaty and weak and absent, but their hands are still fighting on. Wallace is shirtless now and with each battery strike his head whips and tosses perspiration. They are covered in bloody red light. They are slugging out exhausted, delirious, and steady one-two ensemble hits. The crowd is lurching forward with each blow, waiting for the pummel to end in a knockout.
The band makes a fatal lunge in the last two minutes. Flegel returns from the dead and breaks the noisy silence with one last do-or-die stanza. The guitarists grit their teeth and launch a final lightning bright assault. Wallace is kicking and screaming. The last minute is a violent, merciless beating. The song is mangled on the floor, choked to death. I evacuate the burning building, never feeling more alive.