I go to a lot of gigs, so while my ticket purchases may be frequent, they’re nearly always thought out and calculated. Yet when I bought tickets for Viet Cong, it was based upon a single listen of their debut EP Cassette, and a general buzz surrounding the band. Thankfully, the release of their album Viet Cong at the end of January reinforced my decision, so in the lead up to the evening, I was sufficiently excited.
The venue, a sold out Hackney Oslo, was a first for me, but I found it to be an impressive small venue. It consisted of a large bar downstairs, with the music taking place up several flights of stairs in a smaller room. I thought the toilets were oddly located, somewhere between the two levels and only accessible by the staircase at the back of the building, but that’s by the by.
The support came in the form of Absolutely Free, who I had never heard off, but whose name and placement on the gig ticket had led me to question whether I had been mugged off by paying for entry. The band, hailing from Toronto, began and while I didn't know what I was expecting, I found myself pleasantly surprised. Their opening track ‘Window Of Time’ threw me slightly, constantly expecting it to build into something bigger, but instead it seemed to flirt with the idea of a grand reveal, before subsiding into the next song. ‘Burred Lens’ and ‘Beneath The Air’ were stand out tracks, and it was interesting to go into something completely uneducated. They reminded me of Jagwar Ma, who were one of my surprise standout acts of Glastonbury last year. Much like the Australian band, subsequent visits to their recorded material has left me somewhat wanting, finding both acts more compelling live.
By the time Viet Cong took to the stage, the music room was rammed, making it feel even more intimate. Launching straight into tracks off of the new self-titled record, the band sounded tight and loud as all hell, which was complemented by the venue’s impressive sound system. Sounding at times like A Place To Bury Strangers, and at others Joy Division, it seemed as if one of the amps cut out a couple of times during the opening two tracks which I found incredibly jarring, going from an all-encompassing wall of noise to quickly sounding quite shallow and mortal. However, whatever problems the band faced/I imagined quickly seemed to disappear, and the rest of the night went off without a hitch.
The crowd were far from rowdy, but definitely very receptive, and seemed to nod their heads in unison to the likes of ‘Bunker Buster’ and the single ‘Continental Shelf’. It was funny to hear individuals baying for ‘Death’ before their time, but the Calgary band gave them what they wanted and closed with the 11 minute track, which also serves as the album’s closer. It’s a swirling, intimidating number which repeats sections, and ultimately makes you work for the eventual ending. While I didn't have my stopwatch out, I honestly think they played an extended version, which perhaps overstayed its welcome slightly, as my friend turned to me and asked if he was going insane, or if the track really was just looping time and again. When the waves finally broke, I think the audience were caught a little off guard, as the progression seemed to pass without much fanfare. My favourite moment of the whole evening though came in the form of ‘Silhouettes’. The urgent and pulsating track that is said to have been written after singer Matt Flegel was electrocuted onstage and it really shows.
All in all, it was an impressive showcase of Canadian music, and if Viet Cong can stick together and continue making good music, both in the studio and on stage, (their previous incarnation Women ended after members came to blows during a concert) then I may well find myself harking back to this evening, regaling anyone who will listen about the time I saw Viet Cong in front of “like, 400 people.”