Last week, Calgary 4-piece Viet Cong played SXSW and left audiences reeling – not only with their explosive and immersive live show, but also the sight of drummer Michael Wallace playing one handed, with the other broken and wrapped in a sling.
Photo Credit: Joe McCabe, HeyReverb.com
Hey Reverb write “It could have been a disaster with the entire industry watching – but they pulled it off. The surprise here isn’t that Wallace is a talented musician. The surprise is that this band – and any band for that matter – has cojones like this. This is also the beautiful thing about SXSW: You’re seeing these bands perform the defining moments of their careers. Bands are being tested, and letting it all out on the stage. It makes for some truly unforgettable sets, and, hopefully, it also makes careers.”
The band enlisted help from Metz drummer Hayden Menzies for their blistering set from FLOOD’s Cedar Street Courthouse and were also joined by Swans powerhouse Thor for their final show. Rolling Stone describe the scene: “Though Viet Cong drummer Mike Wallace came onstage with one arm in a sling, he played a formidable set with just one hand. On Friday, the band brought in reinforcements to the Fader Fort in the form of Thor Harris, the drummer for Swans and Shearwater, who showed up with just an hour’s notice. Standing to the side of Wallace, who was seated behind the kit, Harris beat the living hell out of the half of the drum kit that Wallace couldn’t access, returning the band to its characteristic in-your-face insanity and then some.”
It was a true rock and roll week for Viet Cong where they proved that nothing can keep a great band down. Here’s Stereogum with their review: “Viet Cong proved that this set was just another event in their turbulent career, something that will be laughed about and immortalized by anyone who witnessed the scene. Viet Cong didn’t miss a step. If they did, no one heard it.”
Click here to watch Viet Cong’s KEXP session
Pre-arm breakage, Viet Cong stopped by the KEXP studios in Seattle to deliver “one of the most intense sessions that room has ever seen.” You can watch that session in full above.
Viet Cong have also announced another round of North American dates today, including Pitchfork and Osheaga festivals, you can see their current dates as well as the newly announced ones all listed below.
Upcoming Tour Dates
03.24.15 – Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO
03.25.15 – Kilby Court – Salt Lake City, UT
03.26.15 – Treefort Music Fest – Boise, ID
03.27.15 – Barboza – Seattle, WA
03.28.15 – Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, BC
03.29.15 – Upstairs Cabaret – Victoria, BC
05.8.15 – Shaky Knees Festival – Atlanta, GA
06.6.15 – Field Day – London, UK
6.12.15 – Voyeur – Philadelphia, PA
6.13.15 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY
6.14.15 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY
6.16.15 – Sinclair – Boston, MA
6.17.15 – College Street Music Hall – Hamden, CT
6.18.15 – Rock and Roll Hotel – Washington, DC
7.31.15 – Osheaga – Montreal, QC
Viet Cong Tracklisting /
- Newspaper Spoons
- Pointless Experience
- March Of Progress
- Bunker Buster
- Continental Shelf
It takes less than sixty seconds of album opener “Newspaper Spoons” for you to decide that Viet Cong is a winter record. The album has barely begun, and the guitar doesn’t snarl until the end of that opening minute, but it still presents a palpable iciness in just a few short moments. It’s bitter. It stings. But once you’re in it, and you’re bracing yourself and charging ahead, “Newspaper Spoons” moves from a punishing, almost militarized drumbeat to a melody that’s still menacing but also delicate, almost celestial.
That instinct for humanizing a stone-cold song is Viet Cong’s greatest gift and sharpest weapon. It’s harsh, but exhilarating. Themes of deconstruction and disintegration, of hardening and crumbling seem to come from every direction. But time and again, they are rescued by something — a little bit of humor, a cathartic moment, even a basic human goof. In fact, as the members of Viet Cong worked through the songs that make up this record, they erred on the side of keeping those moments that save Viet Cong from being overly mechanized. “There have to be strange little goofups and stuff that’s sometimes intentional, sometimes not,” bassist and lead singer Matt Flegel explains. “I have a bleak sense of humor, too, so some lyrics might seem funny to me even though anyone else might think they’re desperately hopeless.”
Recorded in a barn-turned-studio in rural Ontario, the seven songs that make up Viet Cong were born largely on the road, when Flegel and band mates Mike Wallace, Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen embarked on a 50-date tour that stretched virtually every limit imaginable. Close quarters hastened their exhaustion but also honed them as a group. With all four members traveling in one car, the mood conflated with the soundtrack, the soundtrack with the cities around them, and so forth. There was repetition, but it was all different. This combined with the grey, chilly emptiness of Calgary rendered a record with a viscerally rugged vibe, one that Flegel even describes as “shit earth.”
As Viet Cong pushes forward, the six-minute “March of Progress” is when it begins to really take flight. A lengthy, almost industrial march chugs along for a full three minutes before the floor gives out underneath it and gives way to a spare little riff and the album’s first real melody. “That’s the one where I thought ‘that’s what I want us to be doing. Finally,'” explains Flegel. “That was the sound that I had heard in my mind before we even got started.” Later still, that negative space gives way to a richer melody, and it’s here that Flegel sings “we build the buildings and they’re built to break,” a declaration that is in many ways this album’s thesis.
The repetition throughout Viet Cong hypnotizes but it also softens, leaving a space that is deceptively personal. “Continental Shelf” orbits a thousand-watt hook with a thick crackle and a battering-ram drum line. It’s so arresting that you barely notice it doesn’t have a chorus, and then in comes a line like “if we’re lucky we’ll get old and die” and you can’t believe Leonard Cohen (or Trent Reznor, or Nick Cave, or Sinatra) didn’t get to it first. “Silhouettes” is a tripwire of a song, opening with an almost Joy Division-esque exposition and moving at breakneck speed — frantic and pitch-black at a thousand miles an hour — until before you know it they are howling. Actually howling, and maybe you are too.
You can designate records as seasonal, and you can feel Viet Cong’s bleakness and declare it wintry. But the only way you get a frost is when there’s something warmer to freeze up. So yes, Viet Cong is a winter album, but only until it is a spring record, then a summer scorcher, then an autumn burner, then it ices over again. They build these buildings, and they’re built to break.
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