Review: Los Campesinos

CHRIS BANNON is blown away by this Welsh band’s eccentric performance at under-rated venue, The Junction.

Islet Los Campesinos The Junction

Sunday 21st, 8.30 at The Junction. £9 in advance or £11 on the door. 

The Junction is my favourite place for gigs in Cambridge; a real music venue with far fewer kids, seats and businessmen than The Corn Exchange. Amid the oncoming snow, there was a good crowd for mighty Welshmen Los Campesinos!, where the exclamation mark comes with the name.

The first support band of the night was Islet.  Heralding from Cardiff, like Los Campesinos!, they were quite possibly one the most experimental acts I’ve ever seen.  The foursome, including 2 percussionists, didn’t use lyrics but instead a set of unorthodox vocal noises, somewhere between a scream, yelp or a bark.  Now, you’re probably expecting me to go off on a rant as it sounds so bizarre.  But that’s the weird thing – two songs in the couple next to me said, “You know what, in a crazy way this actually works.”  I shared that opinion.  NME do as well, naming them in their radar list.  The BBC even gave them a session. Maybe it’s because it’s so experimental it becomes good.  Maybe it’s because it’s such a new sound.  Or maybe their crazy music inflicts a psychosis on the listener, so you enjoy it.  Whatever it is, their tribal war dance like songs made a surprisingly enjoyable set and though I’m not convinced it would work on an album, they made an excellent support act.

The same cannot be said however for the Swanton Bombs.  When only a guitarist and drummer appeared on stage I immediately thought one thing: they’re trying to be The White Stripes.  Tried they did, but failed.   Both of the lads are talented musicians but their guitars riffs and drum lines were so heavy and over-complicated, that the set descended into homogenous noise.  Ironically the best song was their opener, with only the guitar and harsh vocals of Dominic McGuinness.  If these lads are to improve, they need to learn that less is more.

Los Campesinos! soon made me forget about them.  Few bands can impress immediately, but as soon as all 8 of them were on stage the crowd was captivated.  Beginning with album track, I Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know, they engaged their listeners before setting them alight with single Death to Los Campesinos!  Baring their hearts on their sleeves, singing about heartbreak and decay of the human body they continued to impress with tracks off latest album Romance is Boring.  I can’t think of any other bands on tour that are as audacious.  With instrumentation ranging from violins to glockenspiels, few others would have the talent to pull out such a range of melodies.  Intro of You! Me! Dancing! raised the roof, before its chorus had everyone moving.  Finale Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks had to be the highlight where lead singer Gareth dived into the crowd, initiating chaos.

I managed to grab Gareth for a chat after the show and he came across as one of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met.  Taking pictures and chatting with as many fans as possible, it’s easy to see why the band are adored by their fan base.  He joked to me, “Don’t suppose anyone’s ever hunted you down following a bad review?”  Readers of my reviews last week can think of a good example…  “Child,” was Gareth’s reply.  You can see I got on very well with him.

To summarise their set: high energy, exciting and musically exceptional.  What more could you want?  Romance is boring, but Los Campesinos! are anything but.