Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Los Campesinos!--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

Of all the multi-sex Welsh septets that I listen to, Los Campesinos! is probably my favorite. They’re young, brash, and bratty. They (Aleksandra, Ellen, Gareth, Harriet, Neil, Ollie, and Tom) have all adopted the last name “Campesinos!”. They have a penchant for putrid album art. And, their debut LP Hold On Now, Youngster…is damn good.

Even though the album sounds great, Los Campesinos! had me thinking they could just be a big, convoluted mess in a live setting, and this curiosity drove me to the Black Cat this past weekend to see what they were made of. I arrived a bit late so I missed first opening act Pash. I was kind of bummed because they’re local to DC and I like to become acquainted with all the neighbors. But if they’re not going to put forth a serious effort to name their band, I can hardly be expected of putting forth the effort to arrive at the venue before 10.

Next up was another local act, the Aquarium from Arlington. They’re a girl/guy duo signed to Dischord. Think of a trippy 70’s rock version of Matt & Kim only with better drumming and without the charm. During their set I went up to the bar to grab a drink, and while I was waiting, some kid who didn’t look much older than my shoe size asked me if I would buy him a beer. Hold on now, youngster. I did not buy him a beer. But this was the youngest crowd I have seen at a concert in a long, long time…maybe since the legendary Fig Dish show at the Madison in Peoria in 1995…when I was one of them. Ah, the good old days. A lot of people my age complain about all-ages show, but not me. The kids are alright. And they need their rock music as much as anyone.

Los Campesinos!—and that’s the last time I’m typing that inessential exclamation point—invaded the stage just before 11:30. The drummer in a true punk rock fashion immediately took off his shirt and took a seat. I don’t know for sure, but I doubt he would score very high on this test. A simultaneous shout of “One TWO three FOUR, one TWO three FOUR, one TWO three FOUR, one TWO three FOUR!” obnoxiously proclaimed the set was beginning with frantic dance number “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats.” Good call. They followed that up with “Don’t Tell Me to do the Math(s)” which was perfect for all the 16 year-olds jacked up on Coke without any rum. Despite a scant few limitations, a sometimes lack of heterogeneous music being one, Los Campesinos can get a crowd (myself included) to buy what they’re selling almost immediately. They combine the schoolboy fun of Art Brut with a sloppy garage sound of the Strokes and it works. More importantly, even with the stage at near capacity, no one seemed inconsequential. The guy from Maroon 5 on guitar is good. Lead singer Gareth is a fantastic frontman. Why, even Harriet on the violin seemed to be serving a discernible purpose!

(Thinking of Gareth, reminds me of something. Halfway through the show I realized he was wearing a Times New Viking t-shirt. This Times New Viking stuff…this is an elaborate hoax, right? No one actually enjoys listening to these unlistenable clowns of rock-bottom-fi, do they? If you claim that you do, this is what I’m going to need:

1. A statement of 75 words or less explaining why you like Times New Viking.

2. Two signed affidavits from people who have witnessed you listening to (and enjoying) their album.

These can be emailed to NQL at Thank you.)

Gareth really is greath (anagram!), though. His style is rather preening and confrontational, but it’s much more fun than dumb. However, the true luminary of Los Campesinos is keyboardist Aleksandra, who shares vocal duties with Gareth. Whenever they were on stage and started to get a bit too sloppy, she was dependably there with melodic vocals that often times cleaned up any mess that was about to happen on stage.

Momentum and excitement levels climaxed when they played album favorite “You! Me! Dancing!”. I was shocked they didn’t open or close with this song, but who cares! That song is going to be the cause of impromptu dance parties all over the lower 48 at countless music festivals this summer. Other songs that stuck out included Pavement cover “Frontwards” and “Death to Los Campesinos!”. They played a majority of their album and their excellent EP, Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, and, after a quick encore, the evening wrapped up with not much more than an hour gone. Why only an hour, you ask? Because they only have about an hour worth of material to choose from and the kids in the crowd need to go home and get to bed. But that’s a good band, right there. I had a great time. And, they left me plenty of time to wander over to the belly of the beast of Adams Morgan on 18th and hit up one of those pizza-by-the-slice places. That is, if you can call that pizza. I found the only way to handle such thin and sloppy pizza was to roll it into a ball and eat it like an apple. And then it was delicious. There's a metaphor in there somewhere; albeit a very bad one.


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