A new identity for Viet Cong

Calgary’s post-punk band announces their upcoming name change

Viet Cong drummer Mike Wallace performing onstage.
Viet Cong drummer Mike Wallace performing onstage.
Credit: 
Supplied by Casey Bennett

The controversially-named Viet Cong — with help from openers Greys and Heavy Lifting — made for a surprisingly giddy night of noise and punk. 

The performance came a day after the band announced they were bowing to pressure from critics and changing their name.

‘Viet Cong’ refers to the name Western forces gave to the National Liberation Front during the Vietnamese War, which offended some members of the Vietnamese community. They’ve yet to announce their new name.

On Sunday night, the Kingston-based band Heavy Lifting treated the fast-trickling crowd to some earnest lo-fi garage rock. In their first performance as a group, the band’s members traded off singing duties as they tore through their minimalist set.

Toronto’s Greys, meanwhile, described themselves as a “loud rock band”. Rolling out a set of frenetically urgent punk songs, the four-piece group made a strong case for the genre’s relevance.

Grey’s frontman Shezaad Jiwani’s howling vocals, set over speeding power-chords and an energetic crowd showcased the band’s hardcore sound.

Viet Cong, the night’s main act, gave a visceral performance, despite a series of slip-ups.

Guitarist Danny Christiansen was pale, clearly sick and sticking to the wings. Fellow guitarist Monty Munro’s strings broke mid song. Then halfway through the set, the sound cut out.

“Can we get some blooper music?” vocalist Matt Flegel asked while onstage. A funky song played from The Mansion’s speakers in reply to his request.

“We’ll keep playing till Danny’s dead,” Flegel joked.

As the stage’s Christmas lights blinked on, Christiansen had a second wind.

“The Christmas lights are on … He’s reenergized,” Flegel said.

Recovering, a militant drumbeat sent the band back into its harsh groove.

Their crooning hooks offset the music’s droning bleakness. While it’s sometimes difficult to accessible, there’s still a rugged beauty to these hard-edged songs.

The band’s self-titled debut album was Polaris Shortlisted and became a critical darling. The band quickly attracted a slew of new fans along with new critics.

In Viet Cong’s case, the latter are often the former.

The band joined the likes of The Dead Kennedy’s and Joy Division as notoriety built surrounding their name. Commentators sharply criticized the band’s name choice, as the memories and traumas of the Vietnam War are still fresh for many Vietnamese community members.

Most notably, the band’s name resulted in the cancellation of their March show at Oberlin College, an Ohio liberal arts college. 

The show’s promoter posted on the venue’s Facebook page apologizing “for inviting a band with a name that deeply offends and hurts Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American communities, both in Oberlin and beyond.”

Music websites Exclaim! and AUX echoed the sentiment along with other members of the music press, some of whom argued the press had given the band’s name a free pass in the past.

“I have been hypocritical and completely complicit,” Jesse Locke, associate editor at AUX.TV magazine, wrote in an apologetic AUX article.

This past Saturday, the band formerly known as Viet Cong bowed to the pressure.

“We’ve been talking and having a lot of valuable conversations with members of the Vietnamese community about the name,” the band’s Sept. 19 Facebook press release stated.

“Through this dialogue and hearing about what the name means to so many people, we have decided we will be changing the name of our band.”

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