Words by Sarah Flynn
Photo by Barry Yanowitz
As Los Campesinos! took the stage for its sold-out Bowery Ballroom show on Monday night, my companion leaned over to me and whispered curiously in my ear, “Where's the singer's voice coming from?”
The true answer is that Los Campesinos! is less of a band than a musical, and there's not really a singer so much as an ongoing dialog. The more specific answer is that Gareth, the band's male lead singer and glockenspiel player, hovered towards the back of the stage, plagued both by the desire to bounce up and down and the knowledge that his microphone wasn't quite working as it should. It's also difficult to stand out when surrounded by six bandmates, half of whom are at various intervals singing as loud as they can.
This is the particular brand of cacophony created by Los Campesinos!, whose debut album Hold On Now, Youngster sounds in itself like a cross between a rowdy live show and an indie pop telenovela. In an actual live setting, the band comes across exactly as they ought: there are no real center stage moments or overly ambitious solos, just a bunch of people talking at the same time… in sing-song harmony. This isn't your average call-and-response, but an attempt to chronicle everything from long-distance relationships (“My Year In Lists”) to Ian MacKaye (“The International Tweexcore Underground”) in boisterous narrative. Female lead singer/keyboard player Aleks holds her own end of the conversation with biting vocals, and the other band members round out the shouting whenever the opportunity arises.
The mic problems persisted throughout the evening, but the mark of a band's temperament is in how they deal with technological snafus. Gareth's solution was humility; he apologized even as he traded in mic after mic and then paused at the end of a song to ask, “Can I maybe get a little more vocal in my monitor?” Clearly annoyed, but eager to play, he and his bandmates were more eager to please than anything else. With only one full-length, an EP, and a small handful of singles released, the set list itself covered most of the band's recorded material, with a slow sing-song intro leading into the obvious crowd favorite, “You! Me! Dancing!”
(This is a band that likes its exclamation points.)
Other show highlights included a cover of the Pavement classic “Frontwards”, gussied up in violin-wielding, vocals-trading, colorful Campesinos! fashion, and the thundering rendition of “2007: The Year Punk Broke (My Heart)” that closed the show in a simple but celebratory one-song encore. Upbeat without being saccharine, Los Campesinos!' live show makes for the perfect blend of lighthearted realism.