With Valentine’s Day looming, what better way for romantic couples to spend a cold Saturday night than at a Los Campesinos! concert. Gareth Campesinos, vocalist and songwriter for the Welsh outfit, advised to the crowd Saturday night that their headlining show is “not a place for couples. It’s a pit of despair.” Why? Well, if you’re familiar with them at all, then you’ll know that their lyrics hit on themes of lovelorn and heartbreak. Apparently Los Angeles didn’t care as they filled the Echoplex to the brim, dancing and singing along to songs about depression. In fact, it seems that this was a night that brought everyone together – together in a sense where every single person in the venue was united by their love for one band. In a way, Los Campesinos! acted as the crowd’s date for evening and everyone got “lucky” at the end of the night.
Setting the mood for the night was Portland, Oregon’s own Parenthetical Girls and served as quite the contrast in terms of musical style. Providing a more theatrical and visual approach to their set, a projection of avant-garde images was shown in the background behind them. Opening with the minimal “Sympathy for Spastics,” keyboardist Amber Smith played delicately on her instrument as each member emerged one-by-one onto the stage. Vocalist Zac Pennington made it an emphasis that they are more than just a band – they are performers. His humor and witty banter in between songs made him seem charming. At one point, he jokingly admitted that he was pandering to the crowd asking them if they were “excited for Los Campesinos!? Are you excited for spring break? You guys like pizza? Uhh…Los Angeles?!” Obviously, the pandering worked since they cheered to every question. But that’s not where their real appeal and talent lies. It’s their ability to connect with the crowd not only through interaction, but their infectious blend of experimental art-pop.
The majority of their set consisted of songs from their latest series of EP’s entitled Privilege. “Careful Who You Dance With” and “Young Throats” exposed their more electronic side with bouncing synths and drum pads provided by wild-haired drummer Paul Alcott. Most of the time, they showcased their proficiency for the more orchestral side of the spectrum with sampled strings to go along with Pennington’s dynamic falsettos on songs like “Entitlements,” “For All the Final Girls,” and “The Pornographer.” They even did a perfect rendition of The Smiths’ “Handsome Devil.” When Pennington wasn’t on stage, he was in the crowd walking throughout the venue floor or using the venue itself as percussion during set closer “Stolen Children” where he hit the walls and the truss support with a drum stick.
Before their set ended, fog nearly encapsulated the stage and Pennington responded by saying that “it’s so fucking mystic up here. I feel there should be a scale model of Stonehenge.” He was right that it was “fucking mystic” on the stage, but that’s attributed to Parenthetical Girls’ mesmerizing performance rather than the stage effects.
Though the average age of Los Campesinos! is around 25, four full-length albums, a couple of appearances on late night television, numerous festival stints, and years of touring are enough to qualify them as veterans in the indie music scene. And their live performance proves just that. After all, Gareth did say that everyone in attendance is at the “Los Campesinos! Grammy party, the hottest ticket in town.”
By the way that the crowd was staring intently with their doe eyes at the stage, it was easy to tell that they were ready to explode with excitement from the edge of their metaphorical seats. As soon as Los Campesinos! hit the stage and played “By Your Hand” off their latest album, Hello Sadness, the entire crowd was bobbing up-and-down singing the lyrics word for word with joyous enthusiasm.
Over the past couple of years, the band has gone through a couple of lineup changes that saw key members leave. But not even two songs into their set, it was hard to not be impressed with how tight-knit this band has become. Newest members Jason Campesinos! (drums) and Gareth’s sister Kim Campesinos! (keyboard/vocals) are looked as if they were with the band since its inception in 2006. Most importantly, Gareth is not only a great vocalist, but a natural frontman. He controls and interacts with the crowd with strong confidence and poise.
Their set was composed of a great balance between all four of their albums that kept the crowd energized and moving from start to finish. Newer songs such as “Songs about Your Girlfriend” and “Hello Sadness” received just as much love as the older songs, while “Life is a Long Time” saw guitarist Tom Campesinos! deliver blistering guitar riffs to everyone’s delight. In between songs, Gareth showed off his sense off humor saying that the “hits just keep on coming” between “There Are Listen Buildings” and “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.” If you ask me, it’s hard to determine what the “hits” are when each song is just as good as the other. And that’s a sign of a great band.
The highlight of their set was hands-down “You! Me! Dancing!” which included a touching tribute to the late great Whitney Houston as Gareth sang a few lines from “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” From the first sound of the guitar hook, the crowd cheered from the top of their lungs and danced with pure bliss, while singing the chorus emphatically. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song played live where crowd surfing, dancing, singing, and moshing happened concurrently.
When they exited the stage after set closer “Baby I Got the Death Rattle,” the crowd egged on the band to come back out for an encore by chanting “CAM-PE-SI-NOS” followed by a flurry of claps with the same rhythm. The septet came back to oblige the yearning crowd with a two-song encore starting with “Miserabilia” that featured Kim’s soothing singing style before ending the night with traditional closer “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks.”
Los Campesinos! have surely come a long way since I’ve seen them play a few years ago where no one knew who they were. Now they’re selling out shows across countries with a strong devoted following. With youth on their side, there’s no reason to believe that they have hit their peak in terms of success – they’re just getting started.
Parenthetical Girls set list:
Sympathy for Spastics
Careful Who You Dance With
For All the Final Girls
A Song for Ellie Greenwich
Handsome Devil (The Smiths’ cover)
Los Campesinos! set list:
By Your Hand
Romance is Boring
Death to Los Campesinos!
Life is a Long Time
Letters from Me to Charlotte
Songs about Your Girlfriend
There Are Listen Buildings
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Straight in at 101
You! Me! Dancing!
The Sea is a Good Place to Think about the Future
Baby I Got the Death Rattle
Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks