Fresh off a major hype boost from Pitchfork’s 8.5 Best New Music rating in January for their eponymous debut LP, Viet Cong made their first stop in San Francisco last Thursday night for a sold out performance at Rickshaw Stop. Despite having everything going for them, the band couldn’t hold it together. From the first note — or lack thereof, as lead singer Matt Flegel rambled for almost 10 minutes before the band played a note on Thursday — the foursome were out-of-sync and sloppy. Flegel looked seriously drunk and his stage banter was foolish, a combination of audience polls and a lame “this is my guitarist and he has Tourette’s, so watch out for the swearing” joke attempts.
Even the band’s sound tech seemed out of his element as everything clipped consistently for the first twenty minutes of the set. It’s hard to be excited about a set when the sound is shit and the band doesn’t seem to be taking anything seriously. Another distraction: Flegel struggles to meet the same vocal range as the album, with the single “Continental Shelf” suffering the most mangled reproduction, reducing the Spencer Krug-esque melodies into stressed yelling by Flegel.
Still, Viet Cong write great songs. There’s no question that their self-titled LP is one of the better records of 2015 so far. And there were a few moments during the set when the band really clicked, locking in Flegel’s post-punk bass riffs with the off-kilter guitars the band does so well. But the real question remains: How will Viet Cong harness their newfound acclaim? Will they continue to spoil it like they did on Thursday night? I see a slew of major festival dates in their future. It’d be a shame to have a skilled group of songwriters fail to capitalize on an opportunity like this.