The band Los Campesinos! became important to me during a particularly unremarkable part of my life. Due to a critical lack of ambition on my part, the summer after my sophomore year of college was a period of social and professional stagnancy. While my friends suited up for summer internships or shipped off to lands new and unknown, I returned home with my proverbial tail between my legs, self-sentenced to solitary confinement in the suburb I grew up in.
During this time, I took up the strange habit of going to my local gym and exclusively listening to the Los Campesinos! album Hold On Now, Youngster while I exercised/exorcised. I must have listened to that album once a day for at least two months as I worked out the boredom and frustration of squandered time. Though I now look back at the absurd workout regiment and personal melodrama I had fabricated for myself that summer with bitter amusement, my affection for Los Campesinos! withstood the test of time.
What I mean to say is- the chance to see them live at the Metro had me psyched.
The show’s opening band, Crying, started the night off on a great note. Lead singer Elaiza Santos’ mellow and melodious vocals paired exceedingly well with the band’s chipper electro-pop instrumentation. In spite of their name, Crying left the audience feeling upbeat and optimistic for the upcoming performance. Shortly after Crying’s set, Los Campesinos!- Cardiff, Wales #1 indie rock band!- took the stage by storm.
With seven members in total, Los Campesinos! is a sizable band that holds claim to a variety of musical skill-sets. The euphoric, baroque-punk quality of the band’s music showcases their diversity of talent as they manage to coordinate several intricate instrumental parts into a cohesive yet multi-dimensional sound. Los Campesinos! are nothing if not ebullient performers; it’s clear that they delight in each other’s company and in the music they make together. Los Campesinos! lead singer Gareth David commanded the attention of the room in particular. A charismatic cross between Morrissey, the Artful Dodger, and every emotionally unstable indie boy I was in love with in high school, David was a thoroughly entertaining figure to watch. Fans responded to David’s erratic dancing and stage antics with like enthusiasm: the innermost center of the crowd did their best to create a mosh-pit, and even more reticent concert-goers like myself joined in the fun by bopping our heads about with extra fervor.
As Los Campesinos!’ chief wordsmith, Gareth David is on-par with the best of them- think Oscar Wilde, but with more post-Y2K existential anxiety. Los Campesinos! are known for their energetic melodies and tongue-in-cheek delivery, but these sonic devices often serve as a brightly-colored cloak for David’s sardonic witticisms and morose musings on love. When you happen to catch these woebegone lyrics amongst the joyful noise, the irony hits you- in David’s words- “like a blow to the head, or a smash to the gut, or a knee to your chest” (“Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”). Lines like “I cherish with fondness the day before I met you” (“My Year in Lists”), or “by your hand is the only end I foresee / I’ve been dreaming you’ve been dreaming about me” (“By Your Hand”) have you simultaneously jumping for joy and shouting venomously in your outside voice at the ghost of your ex.
David proved to be as clever in his between-song banter as he is in his lyrics. Because this show was part of a larger tour to promote their new album Sick Scenes, it was to be expected that the band would play new songs. David playfully acknowledged the win-lose nature of this arrangement when he announced that they were about to play some new material and responded to the audience’s scattered cheers, “well, that’s very understanding of you.” That said, the new songs were not too shabby! A cheerful synthesizer and catchy melody go a long way in “Here’s to the Fourth Time!” Likewise, David stays on-brand with exquisite descriptions of depression in “A Slow, Slow Death”: “I started to diarize the coming of flies when gloom is descending / So when it’s back round again I know it’s a false start and not an ending.” Of course, there comes a time for every artist to give up and give the people what they want. After a few new songs, David acquiesced to our wishes and said, “alright, it’s all gold from here,” before launching into the tried and true favorites: “Knee Deep at ATP“, “Romance Is Boring“, “Straight In at 101“, etc.
After the end of their formal set, Los Campesinos! quickly returned to the stage and Gareth David explains, “we usually wait longer to justify an encore, but two out of the seven of us really have to piss, so there’s no time to waste.” While the entirety of the show was all in very good fun, Los Campesinos! encore performance of “You! Me! Dancing!” was truly transcendent. In an instant, I was tossed back into the ridiculous summer I spent at the gym, running around my hamster wheel and wildly daydreaming to that exact tune. For me, “You! Me! Dancing!” is the song that makes Los Campesinos! an exceptional band. The spirit of that music envelops you: in excitement-angst-melancholy-nostalgia, in the straight-up pleasure of being alive, in the thrill that you’re able to experience it all at once, again and again.