Viet Cong @ Kilby Court 03.25 with What Moon Things, Andy Shauf
The night of March 25 finds me entering it baffled, checking and double-checking the sky, gazing around perplexed at the lightly thrumming energy of the sizeable scrap of people gathered at Kilby Court’s dusk-blued entryway. I thought that the crowd would take even longer to gather than usual because of the light, honestly. It’s that time of year when dark stops coming at five o’clock and the light is bleeding all murky down into the venue even after 7:30. After such a wintry, nocturnal existence, I thought the show-going crowd would be a thrown off their show-seeking game. Yet, when I arrive, a line bubbles vigorously. I see members of Viet Cong wandering about outside the venue and all this, more than the increasingly warm weather, feels like spring.
The crowd inside is quiet, unassuming and shivering, casting unkind looks at the dead fire pit as the day-time warmth rushes off with the dregs of the light. As always, at the first hint of sound from inside the shed of Kilby, everyone scampers inside. There I find a sizeable crew for an opening act on a Wednesday night, and the rest of the night’s population can only swell. Andy Shauf turns out to be someone I saw wandering outside earlier and momentarily mistook for the lead of Desert Noises; both are short with long school-girl blunt-edged locks of hair. The chilly spring night has all but melted as they start, proving that not only does Shauf look like he’s in Desert Noises, but sounds like it too. Shauf and his band provide a similarly warm-hearted, wholesomely crafted indie-folk sound, but with a deeper, gloomier, and more precariously delivered tone. Moving up closer, I see each member is tensely attentive to their instruments, which accounts for the delicate tautness that structures each song. Shauf himself picks over the room with dark, darting eyes and rounds out his lyrics with quiet, yet sonorous folk-twang, each word shaped and dragged with weight from his mouth. The whole set consists of quiet, melodic numbers, save one featuring some keyboard, which comes off feeling rather like a boneless Grizzly Bear attempt. Their minute, intense mannerisms and perfect syncs keep the audience still and focused on them, however. Later, when I find out they’ve only been playing together a short two months, I’m understandably impressed. The last song features a long build up, the bassist bent yanking at peddles, and concludes just as quietly as it all started, Shauf saying that now “the louder bands are gonna play.”
They certainly do. Quite in contrast with the work of Andy Shauf and his band, the loud and variating What Moon Things follows, presenting to a crowd that grew still more during the intermission. While they shuffle and shake up on the stage with a somewhat typical band bump and sway, they deliver an interesting and engaging performance, plucking slow, emotional refinement from otherwise dark and aimlessly ‘gazey foundations. Commanding, airy percussion has me bobbing my head solemnly with everyone else. The bulk of the performance is slow with mild emo vibes, crashed through with shouty backing vocals and lazy high notes by the lead. It’s an engagingly glum drizzle, but pours on tracks like angsty teen throwback “The Astronaut,” which relies on a tired, yet aggressive vocal delivery and lyrics (I’m alcoholic dreams of being 19), lending an undeniable drama to the whole piece. Though they say a few things between songs, it’s mostly lost in the mic’s echo, though the four times they repeat that they’re from New York aren’t missed by me. They pause in the set to sing a mostly a-capella “Happy Birthday” to Viet Cong’s drummer Mike Wallace. With What Moon Things providing a smooth transition from the glum, low-key tones of Shauf’s performance to their rough glumness littered with reverb, I feel tempered and ready for the headliner.
Viet Cong takes the stage to a comfortably packed house. Flashy instruments have already been set up before them, including one dreamy translucent guitar. Their lead warms up by stretching his mouth and cat-yowling into the mic. He introduces each band member with a joke, keeping things feeling casual, and when they’re finally down to get down, a smattering of applause meets them. As with many good bands, they put the recordings of their music to shame, obliterating the flat storybook of their recordings, becoming a dizzyingly holographic pop-up book onstage.
Upon my first listening to the band, Viet Cong was like Interpol¬—a band I always wanted to like more than I did—the difference being I did actually like them. Rising up from the bones of the band Women, Viet Cong delivers a pop-rock sound with enough crumbly lo-fi coating to keep the foot tapping hazy. Through the course of their performance, each song—including catchier tunes like “Unconscious Melody” and “Continental Shelf”—is broken up, deconstructed so that each part falls separately on us. It feels like harsh marching with the foreboding drums, cut up ambience in the jangly guitar and strong, gravelly vocals. Another happy birthday is banged out and shouted up by the crowd for the drummer, who is sailing into his new year with a broken arm that he’s somehow managing to play with. They close out with “Death,” which lasts some great length of minutes, and starts bell-like with chattering chords, ramping up and then devolving into thunderous, synchronized pounding. This, paired with ever-slowing strobe lights, plunges us into darkness and flashes clear again to the tumult on stage, all members rhythmically crouching and springing up in unison. Just as the lights and the pounding reach a nauseating point (nauseating in an entertaining way of course) the song picks back up into its fast paced last minute and, before anyone can do much, they’ve shrugged off their instruments and shrugged off the stage. Despite just having given one of the most perfected and energetic performances I’ve seen at Kilby, they maintain even in their leaving an air of nonchalance that’s refreshing to see in a more established band.
Every cold pre-show jitter I felt plaguing the air earlier is gone as I slip outside to grab a word with Viet Cong. They say they’re impressed with the energy the all ages venue gives off, and I’m impressed with the drummer’s cocked, wrapped arm, and wonder how “Death” was the only song he needed assistance with. They make a few Def Leppard jokes, something along the lines of “What has seven arms and sucks? Viet Cong” and everyone laughs, but we all know that they just did the whole thing right—everything a performance is supposed to be—and they gave it in spades.