Scala – November 19th
In the space of just 48 hours, Canadian band Viet Cong conquered the capital’s hearts and minds. The offensive began on Tuesday night as the foursome commandeered the headline slot at Stoke Newington’s Total Refreshment Centre. One night later, the unit found themselves ably reinforcing fellow Cannuck quartet Ought at Scala. Their battles had been won, but the war has only just begun.
After all, these are just the first two chances the band have in London to play tunes from their new self-titled album, set for release on Jagjaguwar in January. But when it drops, rest assured they will be headlining venues such as Scala because it is equal parts stunning and foreboding. Surrender is not an option.
That said, it was also a surprise to discover that the band has a goofy side to their funereal and angular power rock. Between songs, singer and bassist Matt Flegel ‘fills the awkward space’ and does his best Happy Gilmore routine by ripping the piss out of himself and his bandmates. And after humbly admitting to their lack of a roadie and having to leave the stage to tune Danny Christiansen’s guitar while the band played on, he certainly did his best to keep the proceedings light.
However, his jocular approach stood in stark contrast to their new songs, which are impressively dark and with littered with lyrical despair. “What is the difference between love and hate?” demanded Matt on March of Progress. Or how about Pointless Experience’s: “Fail to keep the necessary papers for evacuation.” Hardly cheery stuff, but the band clearly hang off Flegel’s every note as he drives the morbid troops through the night’s off-kilter set with precision bass work, albeit with an instrument strangely choked off with a shoelace at the top of his fretboard. It only adds to the murkiness of his pummelling riffs.
Most support bands get a rather raw deal and Viet Cong’s set is no different. The band gets no love with the lights and the PA decides to ignore their synthesizer work. But it forces the band to emphasise the sheer glory of their riffs and the metronomic drumming of Mike Wallace to superb effect. While the new songs sound good onstage, they pale in comparison to the visceral, albeit purposely clinical, approach of the album.
The set finishes in suitably perverse fashion with the smiling Flegel gleefully launching into the band’s new 11-minute opus, ‘Death’. It features a good three minutes of the same lockstep riff machine-gunned into the air to create a majestically psychedelic effect, before the song takes a U-turn and explodes into shimmering Wire-like pop.
Seeing as their former band Women (before the death of guitarist Christopher Reimer in 2012) never received the acclaim they deserved, it’s high time that Viet Cong continue to seize the high ground and unleash their deadly – and frighteningly bleak – musical arsenal.