Not a soul left the Biltmore this past Saturday without yelling at each other in plain conversation. The ringing, the noise, and the energy — it left the crowd deaf. But the temporary loss of hearing was overtaken by the spiritual experience of Viet Cong, Calgary’s powerful post-punk psychedelic export.
Playing tracks, although the word anthem would more appropriately describe their song style, from their new self-titled album, Viet Cong put on a show that was mutually enlightening and disdainful. With two supporting bands, the concert was truly a musical feast; a sloppy, delicious, and soulful one at that.
Apache Sweater began the night with their droned-out rock and roll beats. Something about their performance kept mustering up the image of Kraft Dinner — comforting, reliable, and nonchalant. Lightheartedly, Apache Sweater had fun with each other and the audience. At one point, the drummer and the bassist began shredding some improvised noise and the lead singer laughed and muttered “auditory gravy.” Enough said.
Freak Heat Waves was the next to play and they seemed to have fastidiously strategized their set: distorted perfection was key for the group. Think of the moment when your computer hits its screen saver mode — the squiggly lines of colour begin playing on the screen in a mathematically calculated way that’s disguised by its technological beauty and fluidity. Well, this sums up the band’s performance.
Passion masked the meticulously determined course of the group’s set. The band members were making love to their instruments, in the sense that not only did they reap immense pleasure from the feeling of their instruments, but they appeared to want their instruments to tremble from the sensation of being played. With minimal vocals, it was easy to lose yourself to the interplay of the different sounds being produced.
In a potentially ironic way, Freak Heat Waves abruptly ended their set. Immediately following the termination of their last song, the band members put down their instruments in tandem and walked off the stage. There was no warning to the audience that they were nearing the end of their set, no nods to the crowd, just… the end. It was all for the best though, because Viet Cong were up next.
The pace of Viet Cong’s performance was impeccably evolving. Despite their insouciance, Viet Cong controlled the audience with a wand of rebellious energy. Starting off at a shallower pace, the group kept it fun and mellow by interacting with the audience. There wasn’t a single person in the crowd who didn’t develop some major friend envy towards Viet Cong by the end of the night.
They had everyone convinced that they are just about the coolest people in the world within seconds of hopping on stage. Matt Flegel, the lead singer, professed that he wanted to hug each person in the audience after the show was over, among other joyous proclamations. And if that didn’t have you giddy like a kid in a candy shop, then the fact that drummer Mike Wallace played the set with an arm cast should probably do it. Or the fact that there was a backup drummer playing right beside him on the same drum set. Yes, there were three hands and a plaster cast going at it on one drum set.
As Viet Cong continued to play, the tempo of the show began to shift into a musical pilgrimage of sorts. Slowly but surely, the battery of the entire venue and everyone inside of it started to charge, and fast. Audience members began crawling onto the stage to merge their sensations with those of the band, creating an orgy of emotion. There was something religious, almost god-like about the whole thing. The buildup of energy was released in a very physical way, and audience members were feeding off of one another’s excitement. It suddenly became tremendously apparent that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who mosh, and those who cower. Let it be known that Viet Cong fans mosh. And moshing is what they do best.
Beautiful and chaotic as it was, the night eventually came to a close. Sweaty bodies, empty beer bottles, and the smell of smoke permeated throughout the emptying venue. It was utterly blissful.