Review: Welsh band Los Campesinos! at the 9:30 Club
WASHINGTON, February 21, 2014 – The one thing no one should ever forget when seeing Los Campesinos! – or just listening to them in general – is this: Los Campesinos! are just plain fun. Anyone standing in the crowd at the 9:30 Club who were familiar with Los Campesinos! understood this as a truism during their recent performance here.
For anyone experiencing them for the first time, these good times vibes are something that become evident after the first few songs, once the general nature of the band starts to take hold and the audience just lets itself go.
Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, this six-piece band has always appeared to be left of center, musically speaking. They are certainly not the kind of group that would appeal to anyone who might be uptight or the least bit self-serious, though they do seem slightly esoteric and a tad bit pretentious as they lean heavily into a stream of quirky, modern day indie rock conventions.
This tendency has become less pronounced over the last few years as the band has shifted slightly more into traditional rock positioning. Yet it will always retain some relevance as long as Gareth Campesinos! is still their primary songwriter.
It’s not that hard to imagine readers rolling their eyes at this description of Los Campesinos! For starters, like the Ramones, everyone in the band takes the surname “Campesinos!” when they perform with the band. But rolling eyes, whether intentional or spontaneous, is all part of the package that comes with Los Campesinos!
The band often comes across as a long form joke veering off in so many directions that, by the time the listener actually engages, everything that started out as seemingly clever can eventually become annoying and not-so-clever; at which point, it all comes back around again 180 degrees to where it becomes fun again.
Audiences ultimately get involved with the game, due in major part to the fact that this band consistently writes catchy songs, evident before Gareth even gets around to spouting out the lyrics. Their music isn’t angular and doesn’t possess a particular edge, yet their songs have a very pleasing rounded sound to them. This is somewhat odd because the rhythm and output of the band is frequently bumpy and nonstandard, something that hasn’t changed to despite the bands numerous exits over the last few years. But it keeps listeners alert and looking for more.
Los Campesinos! have held on to three original members— lead singer Gareth and guitar players Neil and Tom. But there’s also been enough turnover of other members that the band has changed over time, even if that change is relatively subtle.
Their original incarnation had a strong female contingent with Aleksandra co-fronting the band in the early days and keyboardist Ellen playing bass, while Harriet carried much of the remaining load by playing several different instruments. Today’s lineup now includes Gareth’s sister Kim, who plays the keyboard and fills in for the songs they performed when Aleksandra was a prominent member of the band.
This backstory may sound harsh in a way, making it seem like this band somehow managed to cut out a key component of what once made them unique. But that’s really not the case at all as their show at the 9:30 Club recently proved.
In this DC area performance, the band focused on their latest album, “No Blues,” their first recording not to feature the talents of Harriet and Ellen. Both the album and their performance here proved that the quality of Los Campesinos! has never dropped. But in the process of change, they have been becoming evolving into a more streamlined band with Gareth serving as the primary focal point.
A lot of this band’s earlier rough edges have been rounded out as well, although this often comes with the maturing of a longstanding band. But change is relative. This is still a band whose quirky, tongue-in-cheek nature is very much intact. They wouldn’t be Los Campesinos! otherwise. But over time, their approach to their craft has become much more direct.
Much like Gareth’s vocal stream-of-conscious gymnastics, Los Campesinos! will always persist moving forward. Their set at the 9:30 Club is a prime example of this ever-changing Welsh-British band’s commitment to letting the audience in on what gradually becoming one massive and highly entertaining inside musical joke.