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When Viet Cong issued a statement last month that they’d be changing their name, the decision didn’t exactly come as a surprise. From the onset, the Calgary-based quartet conceded that the name had no personal connection to any of the band members, and, in actuality, the moniker was chosen on a whim and with little knowledge of the painful associations related to the North Vietnamese guerilla group.

The controversy has dogged the group nearly since its existence, which is a shame since the post-punk outfit have produced two of the most exciting albums in indie rock in recent years — 2014’s Cassette and this year’s self-titled release (in this writer’s opinion, the best recording of 2015.)

The band’s thorny guitar interplay, incessant polyrhythmic beats and brooding synth scores produce music that is both accessible and cold—tunes to warm your bones while an ice storm rages outside. The fully-formed and expansive sound represents an evolution from the more rigid structures of Women — the dearly-departed post-punk group that Viet Cong bass player Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace were formerly part of. (Perhaps Women was a sign that this band didn’t give a shit about what they were called.)

Although the group is committed to changing their name, they’re still being billed as Viet Cong. In their statement, the members said they didn't want to make the mistake again of rushing into a new name. They are also understandably tired of discussing this topic, which is probably why they declined an opportunity to be interviewed for this story and have mostly stayed out of the media since they made their announcement.

So, as of this writing, they’re listed as Viet Cong for the 12:40 p.m. slot on Sunday at the Treasure Island Music Festival — an event that will hopefully provide a showcase for the band’s considerable talent, and not their unfortunate oversight when it comes to dubbing themselves.

Early afternoon time slots at major music festivals have become the group’s calling card. They’ve played at major multi-day gatherings like Pitchfork, Shaky Knees, Osheaga and Pickathon. And while it’s great that the band is getting these opportunities, it’d be even nicer if they had a chance to play longer than a 40-minute set (which is what they’re getting allotted at TIMF on Sunday.) That’s particularly true since the band’s sound has a natural tendency to lead into extended and ad-libbed jam sessions (the haunting dirge “Death” clocks in at 11:17 on their self-titled album, so you can imagine how long they can stretch that one out live.) Still, Viet Cong is in a much better position now than they were a year ago, when they slept in their tour van as they crisscrossed American and Canada playing at small venues.

While songs like “Death” and “Pointless Experience,” and “Dark Entries” (not to mention the band name) may make it seem like Viet Cong would be joyless to see live, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The group’s members are irascible and engaged while onstage—thrashing around passionately in a manner that belies the band’s darker vibe. Wallace is a veritable madman behind the kit — he didn’t let a broken wrist stop him from performing his duties earlier this year — and guitarists Scott “Monty” Munro and Dan Christiansen are both whirling dervishes, pinballing off each other from one side of the stage to the next. A 12:40 p.m. scheduled start may seem like 5 a.m. in festival time, but this band is certainly worth getting early to Treasure Island (as is the band playing before them, Ought.)

Forget everything else — if you want to see an excitable, highly-skilled band perform at their peak, make sure to watch (the-band-soon-to-be-formerly-known-as) Viet Cong.

Treasure Island Music Festival
Treasure Island, San Francisco
October 17 and 18, 2015 , 12 pm,
$95 for one-day pass, $169.50 for two-day pass

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