Los Campesinos! shakes the Chicago audience at the Metro [Live Review]
By Lauren Smalley
When a band writes albums centered around heartbreak, death, failed hook-ups, and misery you might expect the live show to be emotional and dark - with an almost reverential audience. Despite the angsty subject matter of Los Campesinos!’ songs, their live show is anything but a depressing experience.
It’s the juxtaposition of Gareth (Paisey) Campesinos’ lonely, self-deprecating narratives set to the fun, joyful music that draws such a diverse audience. The age-old argument of lyrics vs. composition just means this band brings in a very wide variety of fans. The fact that their Friday show at the Metro was nearly sold out is a testament to their broad appeal.
The night began with openers Parenthetical Girls taking the stage one at the time to scattered applause. The experimental pop outfit from Portland, OR are fronted by charismatic, eccentric Zac Pennington. He and drummer Paul Alcott - the other two members were non-entities - led the audience on a surreal odyssey which featured a giant screen showing cuts from films by Warhol and other avant-garde images. There was also a disturbing sequence which just showed repeated scenes of women in peril screaming in terror. Knowing this band has 20 EP’s, I was looking forward to hearing their varied repertoire. I was so mesmerized by Pennington’s stage antics (throwing cymbals in the air, writhing on stage, harassing keyboard player Amber Smith) , however, that I couldn’t focus on the music. I did enjoy the crowd-pleaser “Careful Who You Dance With” and their cover of the Smiths’ “Handsome Devil” was spot on, but overall I was unimpressed. I hope to catch them again in a more intimate setting where I think the act as whole would be better suited.
From the first notes of the 80-minute set to the very last, Los Campesinos!, the septet hailing from Cardiff, Wales, had the crowd moving and shaking. I was a bit surprised to hear the keyboard begin the opening staccato notes of “By Your Hand” - which the band performed on David Letterman a week earlier - to open the show. Since it is the hit single on their new album Hello Sadness I expected it to come later in the set. They moved right into “Romance Is Boring” which is always a crowd pleaser, and that set the pace for a night filled with giddy, dance-y indie pop.
The rollicking set was heavy on the new material, but the band interspersed songs from their entire discography, which includes four full-length albums and two EP’s dating from 2008 to present. The younger crowd that was jam-packed on the floor was clapping and singing along ardently to classic and new songs alike. The banter between songs ranged from amusing to depressing. Gareth had beautiful things to say about Chicago, and their experiences playing Lollapalooza, but then he quickly reminded us that we relate to his songs because “we are all just lonely and sad.“ At one point before “Songs About Your Girlfriend” he warned: “This is a place of despair and loneliness. Don't take it personally,” which was drowned out by the frenzied roar of the crowd. Misery loves company, I guess. The communal bond and electricity between crowd and stage was at its peak during “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” in which Gareth speak-sings the perils of a long-distance relationship as a reformed preacher warns you against a life of sin.
The only weak moment of the night was when the band toned things down toward the end of the set with two slower songs from the new album. The melancholy “To Tundra” was a bit of a resting moment for the dancing crowd, and it highlighted Gareth’s shaky vocals when he actually sings melodically. Any negative reactions were soon thrown aside, however, when the opening chords of “You! Me! Dancing!” struck up and Gareth commented on how this was the song they should have played two years ago in their US television début. St. Louis natives will know this song from recent Budweiser beer commercials. The jam-packed 21+ crowd that was occupying the middle balcony sent up a big roar for this hit and I saw a lot of bottles clinking in cheers.
Campesinos only took a small break after the finale and fired straight into a two song encore that saw Gareth wandering through the crowd giving high fives and the other six members singing along to “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” at the top of their lungs. As I joined the masses winding down the stairs at a snail’s pace to the one exit - praying a fire wouldn’t break out - I heard many conversations extolling the genuine joy and appreciation these fans have for this band. No one I encountered went home anything less than completely satisfied.
Parenthetical Girls - 1/27 Metro set list:
Sympathy For Spastics
Careful Who You Dance With
For All The Final Girls
A Song For Ellie Greenwich
Handsome Devil (Smiths Cover)
Los Campesinos! - 1/27 Metro set list:
By Your Hand
Romance Is Boring
Death To Los Campesinos
Life Is A Long Time
A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me To Charlotte
Songs About Your Girlfriend
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
There Are Listed Buildings
Straight Talk 101
The Black Bird, The Dark Slope
You! Me Dancing!
The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future
Hello Sadness Baby
I Got The Death Rattle
Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks