Los Campesinos! At the Paradise!

A review of Los Campesinos! at the Paradise Rock Club on May 21, 2008

, Staff Writer

There is nothing ironic about the exclamation point at the end of Los Campesinos!. You can tell this if you listen to their debut album Hold On Now, Youngster… (although that title has plenty of irony), and you can definitely tell this when the seven band members come onstage to start a show and the drummer is already shirtless.

The excitement both from and for the Cardiff, Wales band at the Paradise on Wednesday night was running high, and from the opening round of "1 2 3 4" signaling the beginning of "Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats" to the show closing "2007, The Year Punk Broke (My Heart)" there was no let down. Sure, there were ebbs and flows, but the ebbs lasted for eleven seconds at a time, for example the momentary violin breakdown in "Breakbeats", and the flows raged like a tidal wave.

Drummer Ollie Campesinos! propelled the band onward through album opener "Death to Los Campesinos!" as lead singer Gareth Campesinos! (the band has a White Stripes name thing, so I’ll stick to first names from now on) walked and spun comfortably around stage like he was singing by himself in his living room. There was no shortage of stage action to watch, as guitar players Neil and Tom were constantly in motion, their kinetic interplay visually anchored by bassist Ellen’s rhythmic sway and Aleksandra and Harriet’s predominantly stationary positions on the sides of the stage.

That visual balance between chaos and order was echoed in the songs. "This Is How You Spell, ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics" built piece by piece, the band piling electronic sounds, percussive rhythms, and guitar lines over a fuzzed out bass line and driving drum beat until they reached the point of synaptic overload, then nailed an instantaneous change into a halftime triplet bridge. "Drop it Doe Eyes" featured bits of melody passed all around the band, with bits of counterpoint bubbling up here in the guitars, now there in the keys. The contrast between Aleksandra’s singing and Gareth’s shouting furthered the push-pull dynamic, but Ollie’s drums drove everything always onward.

Gareth did the talking for the band, but he apologized to the audience, saying, "I don’t think I’ve got much funny to say, so I’ll hold off." Nobody seemed to mind the fact that they were sticking to the music, and the intro led into "The International Tweexcore Underground". With the band nailing the non-album track’s stops and starts, it was the first "This band is amazing!" moment, and as the song finished they were rewarded with rousing cheers.

The next song, "Knee Deep At ATP", was preceded by Gareth saying, "We played last year in Boston at Great Scott – it was the coldest weather I’ve ever known." He then displayed a pretty solid singing voice for the delicate parts of "ATP", though the band never strayed far from their strengths and soon pushed the tune to a breakneck pace. A brief, tight run through "My Year in Lists" and it’s Love is All sound was all exclamation points. Gareth then took an opportunity to mention the UEFA Champions League& final (the& Super Bowl of European& soccer)& that had happened earlier in the day (Manchester United, the team favored by the band, won in penalty kicks). Gareth encouraged members of the audience who didn’t already have a favorite team to pick Man U, saying, "If you don’t like Los Campesinos! go with Chelsea [that day’s losers], you deserve them."

"We Are All Accelerated Readers" featured a fist-pumping chorus and a surprisingly quick ending, but Los Campesinos! immediately picked up with the six count of "…And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison" as Gareth lost the hoodie he’d been sporting, giving another example of point-counterpoint in that "this set has been a constant battle between being really hot and having really puffy hair, and I don’t know which is worse."

[Note to other bands – this is how you play your hit song] There was another eleven second ebb as the band brought everything down for a relaxed intro, slowly chugging and gathering steam until Gareth sang "Get the fuck out of this town." Immediately the band pulled back, except for Ollie who steadily plodded on. Guitars and keys jumped in and out, keeping the identity of the song shrouded in mystery, slowly playing more and more until all were furiously banging or strumming, creating a swirling storm of noise. Then the skies parted, and the perfect, glistening guitar riff of "You! Me! Dancing!" shone through. The song was a kinetic, frenetic, melodic juggernaut and most definitely lived up to it’s name, as the crowd proceeded to go nuts.

The excellently titled "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives" was another high point, the verse-chorus trade off between Aleksandra and Gareth reminiscent of label mates Stars and the noise-thrash outro sounding like The Who’s Baba O’Riley times The Cars divided by The Pixies. The last song of the main set was the also-excellently titled "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks" and was an inspired choice for the set closer, with lights were swirling and flashing, melody jumping all around the stage, drums pounding, and manic verses giving way to hooky choruses, all ending in one last sing along (yell along, really).

Los Campesinos! returned for "2007, The Year Punk Broke (My Heart)" (oh the titles) which featured little to no clarity of instruments, the band instead opting for producing a solid mass of sound. As they left the stage for the last time some guitar loops remained playing and the crowd remained cheering, begging for "one more song." We didn’t get it, but we got more than enough throughout the night. Los Campesinos! are a band with boundless energy, endless creativity, serious talent, and loads to be excited about. There’s no danger of them dropping their exclamation point anytime soon, and there’s no chance that this show will be remembered without one.

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