Feb. 13, 2009
I touched Neil Campesinos!’s ass. Both hands, both cheeks.
Anyone with a pair of eyes knows that Los Campesinos! is the best-looking group in underground music today (plus, you know, their songs are all right, too). The Welsh seven-piece, whose members all prefer the surname Campesinos!, packed up their extraneous exclamation point and brought their brand of dancy-indie-twee-pop-whatever to the Paradise Lounge on Friday, Feb. 13.
Opening honors fell on Titus Andronicus, out of New Jersey. The band took a simple pop-punk structure, covered it in distortion, and called it art. I call it My Bloody Pennywise. In any case, they droned off songs from their 2008 record The Airing of Grievances. In between bouts of shilling for their merch table, they got around to playing two regional-send-up covers — a Bruce Springsteen song for their home state, and a bizarre rendition of the classic Modern Lovers’ Massachusetts anthem “Roadrunner.” Honestly, if they were going to cover a Boston band, they sounded more fit for the Dropkick Murphys — and that, my friends, is no compliment in the circle these guys are from.
Fortunately, we had LC! to atone for the sins of their opening band. They came out brimming with energy, playing “Ways To Make It Through The Wall,” the opening track to their newest album, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. Front man Gareth hopped around the stage with a glockenspiel mallet in one hand and a drumstick in the other, banging on seemingly whatever he could find. By the end of the song, the crowd was frenzied, and one of the bars of the ’spiel had flown across the stage.
The set list (which, incidentally, each band member had scrawled on a pita) was remarkably well-constructed for such a young band. They spread their best known songs through the show and left them interspersed with their best album tracks. They even rewarded their most devout fans with non-album cut “The International TweeXcore Underground.” The mood in the audience was one of the best I’ve seen at a Boston show, with every lyric shouted and every break beat celebrated. There were even high-fives exchanged after Aleksandra pulled out a melodica.
Of course, for a band that attracts the type of music-obsessed audience Los Campesinos! does, it was inevitable that the calls for Pavement covers would begin. (LC! covered Pavement B-side “Frontwards” on their first EP and reference the band in other songs.) Gareth discharged them handily by nodding to lead guitarist Tom, who launched into the intro hook from “Shady Lane.” Apparently the guy knows the guitar parts to essentially every Pavement song, which is so much cooler than I can begin to explain. In the extended intro to their most popular song, “You! Me! Dancing!,” LC! took time to launch into the first verse of yet another Pavement B-side, the classic “Box Elder,” (a sly nod to the fact that “Dancing”, ahem, “adapted” its guitar riff). With these two moves, the band earned some of that elusive “indie cred” and appeased a significant portion of their audience, without ever having to actually play another band’s song — again, quite an act of cunning for such a young band.
By the time they got to “Dancing” near the end of their set, the crowd was very much in the hands of Gareth. Not only was there plenty of dancing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one audience member took up the song’s suggestion and went for a swim in a fountain on the way home. However, a true crescendo was reached during closer “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks.” Already a standout off their first full-length Hold on Now, Youngster, the song took on even more power in person. Midway through the song, second guitarist Neil stage dove into the front of the crowd while continuing to play. And yes, I got to hold him up by the ass. As the song wound down, the entire band came to the front of the stage, climbed onto the monitors, and chanted the final refrain — with the crowd screaming right back at them.
At their core, Los Campesinos! is a band for the young. Barely out of college, they write about life with an unrivaled joie de vivre, whether about their favorite bands, getting dumped, or blogging a (final, fatal) LiveJournal entry. Maybe their music isn’t the most original or boundary-pushing, but they wear their influences well, and they write some killer hooks. And when it comes down to it, Los Campesinos! is fun. When you’re a music-nerd college student, what else matters but you, me, and dancing?