Los campesinos! se alzan en el Gargoyle! (said babelfish).

Cardiffian darlings Los Campesinos! stopped by WashU last week. I taped the concert for WUTV and wrote a review for Eleven Magazine.

Los Campesinos! – “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” Live from Ben Gross on Vimeo.

Los Campesinos! have a lot going against them. First, their band name is Spanish. I’ve been writing them off for almost a year now because I thought they were some Tejano band a la Los Lobos or Los Lonely Boys. But they’re not. Which brings me to my second point. They are from Wales. The amount of good music coming out of Wales is equivalent to about say, Monaco (unless you think Tom Jones is good music, then Wales is comparable to the slightly less pathetic Luxembourg). Third, they chose to include punctuation in their name, putting them in the ranks of Panic! at the Disco. Some great band names have been punctuated in the past, but pulling it off requires an elevated amount of awesomeness. That’s why Jesus and Keith Moon returned to Earth and made Panic! at the Disco drop the exclamation point (really). Also, Los Campesinos! is a septet. Seven people is excessive for an indie-pop band. They should donate a few members to Broken Social Scene and they’d probably be no worse off. So it was with some reservation that I picked up a ticket for the February 4th show at the Gargoyle. Cautiously, I gave their first album, Hold on Now, Youngster… a listen. It was not at all what I expected. No bajo sexto. Not even any spanish lyrics.

Wednesday nights are typically not the most popular night for catching a show. But as show time approached, a long line snaked through the bowels of Mallinkrodt. The opening band, Titus Andronicus, still hadn’t shown up. Gargoyle committee members and Los Campesinos! merch people scrambled around looking for the band’s cell phone number when, as if on cue, Titus walked through the Gargoyle’s front door. Carrying their gear, they actually expressed surprise that the venue had waited for their arrival to open the doors. The band hurriedly piled their equipment on the stage, the doors opened, and the venue quickly filled up. Foregoing any discernible variety of soundcheck, Titus ripped straight into a messy song split somewhere between power pop and straight-up punk. It sounded like someone had spilled their beer on the soundboard. But as the levels were fixed and Pat Stickles’ vocals rose above the rest of the noise, it became clear that the levels were not that important. Titus Andronicus is the band you would imagine playing an awesome frat party in a Hollywood movie, breaking lamps during the chorus. Stickles apologized for being late, explaining that they had spent the entire morning on a coffee shop in Lawrence, Kansas, completely forgetting that they were supposed to do a session at KDHX in the afternoon. They played a pretty faithful cover of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” to make up for it.

Shortly after, the seven members of Los Campesinos! piled onto the stage. Lead singer Gareth loomed over a single cymbal, looked back at drummer Ollie, and betrayed one of his last smiles of the night. He was all business from the driving intro of “Ways to Make it Through the Wall” to the end of the show. Gareth’s seriousness seemed to be wholly inappropriate for the peppy pop that characterizes the bands sound. But listening more closely reveals dark lyrics beneath the infectious hooks. Lyrics detailing cheating girlfriends, futility, and desperation have never been sung with such enthusiasm. When Gareth occasionally dips into Dismenberment Plan-style spoken vocals he stares past the audience and gestures with his hands, almost like he’s giving a key-note speech on despair.

In what has become a common trend since the Girl Talk fiasco last year, Gareth lamented the band and crowd’s sobriety. The typical paying non-student shouted back, “Next time play a bar!” But even the anti-Gargoyle crowd who bitches about every good band playing WashU instead of Blueberry Hill seemed to be having a good time. The crowd constantly bobbed up and down during the set. Occasionally a fist pump would rise above the mass of people.

The most powerful moment of the night came when the entire band shouted the anthemic background vocals for “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed,” proclaiming “we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future.” If Los Campesinos! came to deliver a message of hopelessness, they at least assure us that we’re all in it together.

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