Los Campesinos, The Lovely Bad Things and Moses Campbell at the El Rey in LA-10/18/12
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Los Campesinos is itself a musical mousetrap and people (as well as record companies) have been clamoring to get a piece of them since late 2006 less than a year after they formed while still University Students in Cardiff Wales. Their early work was receiving praise from the likes of Pitchfork Media and Drowned in Sound while they were attending classes. Los Campesinos' adoring fan base has keenly hooked into Gareth David's adroitly emotional lyrics wrapped in Tom Bromley's energetic indie pop / rock. Stirring dance-able, often times happy sounding compositions colliding with dark, angst ridden lyrics proved to be a heady intoxicating mix. Their performance at the El Rey last Thursday almost 6 years to the month since they were first signed by Wichita Recordings revealed a supremely tight and self confident group of musicians. But before I pile on more complements, let's give some mention to the two bands who preceded them and who Gareth David enthusiastically referred to as "fucking superb."
Moses Campbell who coincidentally also formed in 2006 have something else in common with Los Campesinos. In both cases it feels like we have seen them grow up. Their laid back persona on stage belie their songs that are dynamically driven. Songs like Nest and Walk On Water are pretty progressive for indie rock exploding with musical bursts of energy while allowing for soft passages and pretty guitar breaks. Lead vocalist / guitarist Sean Soloman sings in almost a pensive way one minute and then can belt it out when the music stirs around him often times propelled by Pascal Stevenson's solid bass guitar, Miles Wintner's skilled guitar work, Andrew MacKelvie's drumming and Pauline Lay's wall of violin. Yes, wall of violin. She furiously churns out some serious sounds. At one point during their set someone yelled out, "What is your band's name?" to which Sean replied in a real deadpan way, "Los Campesinos." The obvious bow to what was going to happen later was both witty and charming and got a good laugh from the audience. They do receive the "LCFS" stamp of approval.
The Lovely Bad Things took the stage next and, no, they didn't form in 2006 but in late October of 2009 so this gig was ostensibly their 3 year anniversary show The power chords and sustaining feedback as they charged their instruments up was a sign of things to come. Opening up with a new song called Here and Anywhere their sound is post punk head banging fare all the while being compositionally dense. This song, for example has about 3 distinct drum patterns by Brayden Ward, was melodically rich as sung by Lauren Curtius and also deconstructed into a dual opposing lead break in the middle (by Tim Hatch and Lauren) only to slowly build to a rocking climax (with appropriate flashing lighting). It felt like the end of a set rather than the beginning. Trading off each other's instruments often, what followed were songs off of New Ghosts / Old Waves like I Just Want You To Go Away and You Done Messed Up as well as roughly 4 new songs one of which was North Bend. Sung by guitarist Camron Ward it is a sonic pile driver full of tasty guitar licks that gives way to girl /guy vocals that kind of bookend a Pixie-ish chorus. One new song that I don't know the name of (something Honeycomb I believe) was a surprising departure of sorts for the garage rockers. While still firmly tucked in indie rock, it edged more mainstream than most of their songs and felt like a soundtrack for youth breaking away and running free. Cool song. The Lovely Bad Things, yes... fucking superb.
Now to that amazing musical mousetrap. A fully primed crowd pushed close to the stage instantly cheering as the first tom tom beats of By Your Hand began. Bathed in red light, the belly keys filled the room until the entire band dove in head first with Gareth at the helm. It is a stellar piece to start off with, the audience freely joining in and singing along during the chorus. The dynamics, the punch, feel so much stronger performed live. The fury of songs like Ways to Make it Through The Wall and Death to Los Campesinos too sounded more realized live as Gareth's voice strained more toward a punk snarl, "I swap the bruising for a bumping sensation... I'll be ctrl-alt deleting your face with no reservations" as vocals ping ponged between himself and Kim. Now the crowd in full tilt mode were jumping in unison. I came to a realization during Romance Is Boring and Songs About Your Girlfriend that Gareth vocals bring Robert Smith to mind. It could of simply been the sound of the El Rey room but this is a good time to point out that I am one who appreciates British singers who sound British when they sing.
A few songs in and Gareth had abandoned his sweater. Besides possessing the songs he sings, he is adept at talking to the crowd and handling a girl in the audience who seemingly had too much to drink. It was a funny back and forth as she insisted that her and her friends come up on stage to dance. Gareth let her praddle on with all the politeness he could muster until he flat out stated "It's not gonna happen... this is my time to shine." The crowd ate it up as they should. The crowd pleasers of all crowd pleasers, We Are Beautiful , We Are Doomed chased itself at a breakneck pace feeling like a supercharged emo-ish version of a Mars Volta or Royal Bangs song. The audience gladly joined in again singing at the top of their lungs, "THERE'S FUTURE IN THE FUCKING BUT THERE IS NO FUCKING FUTURE!"
After their long build up to You! Me! Dancing! -as it kicked into full gear and as the entire audience went into a lovely frenzy I realized that I was witnessing a love fest the likes of which you don't experience with a lot of bands. Live, the maudlin The Sea Is A Good Place to Think of The Future feels like an anvil on your heart. As the applause subsided Gareth said, "Thank you LA" and graciously thanked the venue, the promoters and globbed sincere heaps of praise on the two other bands. He is a class act. Los Campesinos finished off their set with an inspired rendition of the melodramatic Baby I Got The Death Rattle. As the song rested, the crowd clapped in anticipation of the last up tempo third of the song.
After rousing applause, Los Campesinos encored with Knee Deep At ATP transitioning into Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks. At that familiar guitar break, Gareth climbed down from the stage and walked deep into the adoring crowd. It was one of those moments. As the synth sustained and the guitar pushed out catchy licks, Gareth held his mic over his head almost like a conductors baton as happy faces clapped in unison eventually parting for his return to the stage. The jammy nature of this song made for a fun dancy ending to a great set as the audience joined in the last stanza. The Los Campesinos show was (to use GD's own words) fucking superb.