Paradise Rock Club
April 27th, 2010
I miss Aleks Campesinos. The waifish redhead keyboardist seemed even smaller in person when I saw Los Campesinos! last year. Dwarfed by the keyboard, she looked straight out of a college band recital. Same went for the rest of the band. Average height, average looks. I don’t know what parts indie rockers are supposed to play, but none of the members of Los Campesinos! were cast to fit the bill.
None of this mattered. That night, Los Campesinos! put on a hell of a show. They rocked the way you would expect out of a band sporting more hair grease and more affectations than their perfunctory punctuation. I think the approachability I felt from the band made the show. As they rocked out, it felt as if we rocked out. The audience knew every lyric and it seemed at times we were in one band. That could be me on stage. That could be them standing next to me.
That night I collected high fives from six out of seven Campesinos! as they tore their gear down. Their lead singer Gareth stood patiently to say hello and to thank the long line of waiting fans. Ollie, the drummer, wandered around aimlessly wearing only a pair of Umbros. I found Aleks at the edge of the stage and we talked about med school and various subjects ending in -ology. I could tell as much as she loved the ride of being an indie rock star, it was only just that. Already she could see the exit up ahead.
Last June, the band announced that Aleks had departed to continue her studies in medicine. Their third LP, Romance Is Boring, would be her last with the band. Now almost a year later, I found myself back at the Paradise Rock Club waiting for Los Campesinos! to start their spring US tour. The Icelandic Volcano had pushed their start date back and the band had just arrived a day before. They were wrought with jet lag and as Gareth said on stage, “a mix of tiredness and shame, which is my favorite way to feel.”
They dug into their set, dug, because it certainly felt as if they were hard at work. The songs were the same, but they felt more abrasive. Gareth snarled. There used to be more violins, glockenspiel, nuances, in their songs. That musicality set them apart from all the other indie rockers. They used to prance around the stage playing each other’s instruments. Now they hammered away. Swirling guitars and screamed lyrics. The same as any other band.
There was a point during the song Miserabilia, when Gareth screamed the lyric, “Shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you.” I used to take these lyrics with a grain of salt. There used to be a cuteness, a cheeky romanticism to the woe, but now I felt as if he really meant some of it.
And to be honest, everything seemed to be a bit more atonal. Heads were hung lower. Perhaps three years of non stop touring had removed them from what they had been. I can imagine the practice sessions in dingy basements near the University of Cardiff. They were from there. Welsh university students. They were that local band that caught fire. Last year Gareth talked about how in each successive year, more and more people came to their Boston show. This year, the ascent has leveled out. Perhaps the days of being wide eyed indie rock star darlings are behind them. The gigs are piling on, turning from once in a lifetime events into ordinary work. I think they still enjoy it, but the novelty has worn off. There is a feeling that this isn’t a three year break to enjoy “the time of our lives,” but rather the first glimpse down the barrel of, “the rest of our lives.”
Ten songs down that barrel and what did I see?
I see them launch into their hit Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks off their first album. Suddenly Gareth is jumping into the audience, and Tom, the guitarist is there too. Gareth’s mic gives out and for a moment, the vocals fade away. But then the audience chimes in, and in a mess of hopping people, the lyrics emerge. This is the Los Campesinos! I had an unhealthy obsession with last year. This is Gareth, Tom, Ollie, and the other Campesinos! melding into the crowd and somehow inviting us to join in their raucous revelry. It’s brief and gone in a flash. The feedback lingers from the amps and then they are gone from the stage.
A few days later. I think back to my conversation with Aleks and I can imagine her as a doctor one day saying, “I was in a band once. We toured around the world for a few years.” But it isn’t more than a aside that subsides into the normal things us normal people do. And on the other hand, I can see Gareth and the rest of the Campesinos!, years from now, with more albums and shows under their belt. They played in a band too. It was the time of their lives. Only that time morphed into another time, one that for better or for worse emerged as a good chunk of the rest of the lives.
They’re stuck now in that transition. Maybe they have to do some soul searching, but that brief glimpse of electricity told me not worry. The future’s not all that bleak. Los Campesinos! will hit their stride.