Los Campesinos! is a band weathered by fine lines. By attending one of the Welsh septet's shows, you are, whether you know it or not, crossing one of your own in the sand. You are saying that you prefer precociousness to pretense, that you listen to blunt honesty and bold drama, that you're cool with your rock bands sounding and looking more than a little bit cute. And if you and your bespectacled face made it to the Bluebird last night for an earnest, strangely Buzzcocks-esque take on all of these qualities, you will notice that you are still a fan.
The seven ceaselessly fresh-faced members of Los Campesinos! have cranked out four albums since 2008, all the while touring endlessly to crowds who think they're British (foreshadowing: They're kind of bitter) while never coming down on either side of any of the fine lines they're straddling. You're still you(!), they're still me(!), and we're all still dancing(!) -- and the whole thing is still as twee as the punctuation it rode in on. This is a band mired in emotion and bold intentions, saddled somewhere between rock and pop, earnest and ironic, brave and cute. And yesterday, they did their laundry.
Coming from the same man who pens the group's brazenly open-diary lyrics, Gareth Campesinos!, the night's string of Denver anecdotes was as charming as it was in absolutely no way noteworthy. During our journey through the rowdy soap-pop era of the band's November album, Hello Sadness, the audience was treated to all the details of the band's trip to the laundromat, Chipotle and Twist & Shout earlier that afternoon. As proof of their need to wash up, the band's two women and five men each sported solid-colored T-shirts without repeating shades. The effect was that of a slightly punk, highly desperate Von Trapp family.
On stage, the band is spread evenly through distinctly cramped quarters, which amplifies their creativity level and showmanship while rendering their sound happily murky. Gareth, who struts and gestures in much the same way as Art Brut's Eddie Argos, is both the band's obvious leader and its direct focal point: It is his charisma ("Romance Is Boring"), his fervor ("Straight in at 101") and his sass ("Songs About Your Girlfriend," during which he accused a rude audience member of dating a woman who didn't love him). As he shouted at the top of his lungs, "More post-coital and less post-rock!," the lyrics he wrote and repeated sounded like a call to arms.
Live, the songs are eerily poignant, and not just when the F-bomb is dropped. Can a xylophone be furious? But the people behind them, especially after a day spent doing laundry and then telling people about it, can occasionally be sloppy. For the first five songs, it was tough to tell whether Los Campesinos! even wanted to be there, and this period was followed by moments of pointed anti-American barbs that proved intermittently that they probably didn't. ("You guys probably think we all sound the same -- like David Beckham." "But we all know Americans love money." "Yeah, we had fast food today, too.") With seven people on the Bluebird's stage, it's tough to dance wildly, and the moves both band and audience busted were lacking.
But who really wants their spontaneous, post-punk twee pop to be polished? If the guys hadn't been bitter, if they had cared about the audience just a little more, if their performance had been finely orchestrated, it would have been sweet instead of the eventual acutely, romantically bittersweet. Sometimes it helps to cut the sugar with something sour. Last night, Los Campesinos! were both.
Personal Bias: During an interview in 2008, Tom Campesinos! jokingly asked me to join the band. Sometimes, after sad movies and over a pint of vegan ice cream, I wonder what my life might have been. By the Way: Despite the band's barbed claims that Americans can't tell the difference between England and Wales, one member of the crowd actually brought his most recent copy of NME with him to the show. Now, I can get down with my Brit self, too, but last night fostered some exceptionally obvious Anglophilia. Random Detail: The ratio of glasses to people who can see heavily favored the bespectacled. The show was like a cute convention for people who can't read past the third row of letters.
Los Campesinos! Bluebird Theater - 1/31/12 Denver, CO
1. "This Is How You Spell 'Hahaha, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics'" 2. "Romance Is Boring" 3. "Death to Los Campesinos!" 4. "Life Is a Long Time" 5. "A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me to Charlotte" 6. "Songs About Your Girlfriend" 7. "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" 8. "There Are Listed Buildings" 9. "Straight in at 101" 10. "To Tundra" 11. "The Black Bird, The Dark Slope" 12. "You! Me! Dancing!" 13. "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future" 14. "Hello Sadness" 15. "Baby, I Got the Death Rattle"
16. Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks"
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