Viet Cong / Andy Shauf / Phases
Joyful Noise; Indianapolis, IN

When Monty’s de facto birthday cake was being haphazardly passed through the crowd — extolled by local musician Jared Birden on behalf of Viet Cong — it proved the existential point of fighting forces beyond control. The show sold out well before the 15th, but the apathetic Sunday crowd could only rustle up more than half the capacity of Joyful Noise’s performance space. The technical difficulties that riddled Andy Shauf’s performance and the battle for more vocal in the monitors for all bands came to a tipping point when, mid-scream, Viet Cong brought down a breaker.

With all the mishaps, it would seem the tiny show was a bust. Far from it. Although Viet Cong and the crowd had a hard time recovering after the nearly 15 minute intermission (captured perfectly by the band leaping into a semi-gloss version of “Continental Shelf”), the build-up to Viet Cong’s triumphant show was enjoyable every step of the way.

Local band Phases opened up with a dream-gaze sound full of antipathy and longing. A lot of plucked notes and foggy drones, with a Michael Shannon doppelganger making odd faces as he concentrated a bit too hard on nailing complicated rundowns. As the band loosened up in front of the friendly hometown crowd, the music became more confidant and organic. As a buttoned-up sound, Phases could go down the wrong path. As a live entity feeding off the energy of a happy crowd, they began to fulfill a future potential yet untapped.

Poor Andy Shauf and his band were thrown to the wolves. His wistful, down-tempo songs not only seemed the appropriate soundtrack to the technical difficulties that plagued his set, but his Wes Anderson cache was an odd fit sandwiched between more down and dirty acts. The highlight was the drummer, whose Tilda Swinton androgyny and robotic shuffle was both eerie and engaging, much like the actress herself. The interplay between the Rhodes and the bass was fantastic, particularly as Shauf battled amp problems through much of the set, which left his guitar crippled while highlighting the great vocals. His Canadian good graces endeared him to the sympathetic crowd, and here’s to hoping he comes through again because his accessible post-twee idealism would do well in the aw-shucks Midwest.

But back to the cake. Viet Cong took the stage, seeming 10 feet tall and bulletproof. They teased “Pipelines” by The Ventures and the crowd was immediately sucked in by the playfulness — not just of a band celebrating Monty’s 32nd birthday but of a band that was born of tragedy, now fueled by the idea to not let a life un-lived be their grave marker. So as cake was being sent from stage to crowd, the band launched headfirst into “Throw it Away” and the raw chemistry and akimbo limbs of a band enjoying the right-now was transferred onto the enthusiastic youth (and a few older gents). It continued to snowball through them playing the first half of last year’s EP before another half-rendition of a cover (this time “Immigrant Song”) before “Bunker Buster” hailed the shift to the band’s latest long-player.

Then came the aforementioned power outage. But the band and crowd pressed on. A rare sight in Indianapolis, which is starved for this brand of raw charisma outside of local acts. If Viet Cong had anything to gain, it was a loyal following and the knowledge that Indianapolis is a friendly crowd worth revisiting on future tours. Despite the equipment and electronic failures of the evening, it was all the more memorable. Not to mention that there was cake and they let us eat it, too.

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