Wales-based Los Campesinos! became an indie darling almost immediately after they hit the scene with two full-length albums in 2008 and for good reason: this seven member band plays raw, wild, angsty but orchestrated music with traces of punk but with rivers of self deprecation, self doubt, and unfiltered emotion. And incidentally, they know how to put on an incredible live show, as they demonstrated last Thursday night at The Bluebird.
Los Campesinos! opened their set with “By Your Hand,” the first song on their 2011 album Hello Sadness. The song starts out with a simple, thin melody on the keyboard, before breaking into the kind of multi-layered, bass-and-drum-laden chaos that so completely captures everything that’s great about this band. And then the chaos stops and the keyboard takes over again, with percussion lines and vocals coming back in one at a time until the song breaks open again. Those kinds of pace changes have a way of forcing you to stay engaged, and give a five minute song with the feeling of multi-stage epic.
Lead singer Gareth Campesinos! is stocky and ginger-haired, looking a little bit like a young Richard Harris. It is a face you’d expect to see in some smoky Welsh pub, a pint of lager in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The kind of guy who probably, thirty seconds after meeting you in that bar, would be your best friend: buying you drinks, laughing and sobbing on your shoulder, and then—a few drinks later—threatening to kick your ass for god knows what accidental slight. His stage presence exudes the kind of confidence, ebullience, and unrestrained charm of a madman.
During the set Gareth joked periodically about a sound technician at the Bluebird who had apparently taken off and left them with a substitute sound person. “You’re basically watching Los Campesinos! in a band practice,” he said with a toothy grin. However, if he hadn’t called attention to said problems, no one in the club (myself included) would have noticed, except for one electronic “pop” that followed after the sound tech seemed to dart behind the stage for some reason only he knows about. The popping sound merely elicited another grin and a head wag from Gareth, who continued, chuckling his way right into the next lyric.
The vocals seem to match directly with the band’s overall fast-paced rythym, with Gareth delivering the syllables in staccato sometimes, almost like another percussion piece. This effect seemed especially pronounced on “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State” (or “Letters From me to Charlotte”). This song also stood-out for a certain Cure-like, British post-punk sound. It's a fast, driving, wide-open sound that owes a lot to the bass player Ellen Campesinos!. Standing off to the side, cool and almost disengaged, as bass-players often seem, she provided what was one of—in my opinion—the biggest under-girding factors that made Los Campesinos! sound roar out from the stage from the opening note to the last.
It seems the rest of the band, red-haired keyboardist Kim Campesinos! especially included, have to adopt a bit more stoic posture, if anything as a way to counteract Gareth’s irrepressible stage antics; now he’s laying on the floor, now he’s trying to stick drumsticks into some low-hanging wires above the stage, now he’s left the stage, set the mic down, and has ordered a shot at the bar…now he’s back on stage. But whatever the equation (talented showman + stoic yet awesome band) Los Campesinos! have nailed it. I'd have kicked myself for missing the chance to see these guys live.