LIVE: Viet Cong, Barboza, Seattle, WA

By Gabriel Mathews

First, a brief message for Barboza: Please respect your patrons and be consistent about advertising when your shows start. Last time I came to a show at Barboza, I missed the first band cause you advertised the door time rather than the show time. This time I arrived an hour early, cause the show time was an hour and a half after the listed door time. Figure your shit out, dudes.

Anyway, so. New York’s What Moon Things took the stage in the brown shotgun room called Barboza and it became clear that this was a band who requested to be backlit. Once they started playing, it became clear that this is the kind of band you’d expect to request to be backlit. At no point could I see the members of WMT’s faces, mostly because my eyes were getting bombarded by harsh white LEDs. The next thing to become clear is that this is a band that really wants to sound like the Cure, and generally succeeds at it. I can’t say I really detected any other musical reference points – frontman Jake Harms is a vocal doppelgänger for a young Robert Smith, and the band’s minor-key, mid-tempo churn never once moved out of the general tone of “goth.”  That’s not a bad thing—goth is a pretty cool sound, ultimately, and it looks and sounds good on What Moon Things. Drummer John Morisi stole the show for most of the set with his measured, intricate beats and spot on harmonizing. Would I seek out What Moon Things again? Probably not. But I enjoyed their set pretty well.

Viet Cong’s set was defined by one thing, and I’m not talking about the recent dust-up over their “offensive” name. Somewhere along this tour, drummer Mike Wallace broke his left hand. Viet Cong’s recent self-titled debut is not exactly light on the drums, so after seeing him walking around with a cast I was a little concerned as to how this would play out for the band. It seemed that there were only so many songs they could successfully pull off with a one handed drummer, who admirably Def Lepparded his way through five songs, which worked well enough for the set to be pretty enjoyable. The first three songs of the evening were off the “cassette” EP, with which I’m not familiar, and which definitely felt less well-thought-out than album highlights such as “March Of Progress.” But then the awesomely intricate rhythms of “Bunker Buster” came through and I started getting excited. Seeing Viet Cong live makes evident the degree to which rhythm is a central component in their musical thinking—I guess that’s what happens when you have a bassist for a frontman. The guitars (one of which, played by Scott Munro, being a twelve-string, which helps explain why I’ve always found Viet Cong’s sound to be especially tinny and chiming) slash in and out of time with each other, making even a relatively basic 6/8 time signature feel discombobulated and out of whack. “Continental Shelf” whipped out the good ol’ “Be My Baby” beat only to drop it for a double-time verse. The set’s high-point came at the end, as the band brought Morisi and his snare drum back out to fill out the 11-minute album closer “Death.” Morisi’s enthusiastic flailing became the focal point of the first half of the song for me, and certainly did a lot to make up for Wallace’s handicap. The song’s vicious snare rolls and eventual massive, 5-minute crushing lurch section became hypnotic to such a degree that I couldn’t quite believe it would ever end. In a good way. Eventually, of course, it did, as the racing final section of the song closed out the band’s set.

While I certainly wish Viet Cong had given us a little bit more—there was hardly time for them (or me) to get into their groove before they finished—I totally understand what they were working with, and the fact that they soldiered on to the degree they did was impressive and respectable. Here’s to hoping I get a chance to see them play a full-length set sometime.

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