review by Ana Carolina Ferraz
photos by James Bailey
Los Campesinos! came all the way from Cardiff, Wales, with its eight touring members and dozens of instruments to make people dance and scream in Seattle, WA. Playing for a numerically modest but highly enthusiastic audience at the Showbox for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, they smiled, thanked people for going and chose an unusual spot to play “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks,” their very last song: in the middle of the crowd.
They have an ambitious set up. Besides the three guitars, bass and drums, there are two keyboards, one violin, two xylophones, and percussion. There is a lot going on and everything goes on at the same time on most of their songs. They opened with “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know,” from their latest album Romance Is Boring released in January. The loud and fast arrangements continue with “Death To Los Campesinos” off of their 2008 debut Hold on Now, Youngster, and the venue’s wooden floor was literally trembling from all the jumping at that point.
They seem to have a fascination for song titles that go for miles but were magically reduced to one word or even a letter and exclamation point on the setlist – “You! Me! Dancing!” became a simple “y!.” Throughout the concert it was also possible to notice some of the band’s favorite themes for lyrics. They have important realizations in Mexico / at Mexican restaurants and words like “blood” and “eat” are used a few times on different songs. Relationships ending badly are also there: “I cherish with fondness the day (before) I met you” is a line from “My Year In Lists.” Ouch.
Halfway through things mellowed down a little — in a Los Campesinos! definition of “mellow” anyway — and the melancholic “You’ll Need Those Fingers Crossing” was on. No hope, dead raindrops and a letter to God saying “You needn’t worry about us, we can look after ourselves, / We have learnt not to rely on you or anyone else.” These are appropriate themes if it’s taken in consideration that the majority of people at the Showbox on Tuesday was less than 21 and consequently not much younger than the band members themselves. The conflicts and sense of urgency punctuated with sweetness presented by their words and melodies are part of their target audience’s reality. “My Year In Lists,” “Straight In At 101” and “This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind” followed. When “You! Me! Dancing!” started, it set the place on fire again and it burnt until, and especially, on the encore when 6 members (except the drummer and Harriet) went down and played among the ecstatic audience. That includes quite a few 30-year-olds that had been swirling around to their songs in the back of the venue since the beginning.
They are smiley, bubbly and the three girls in the band, Ellen, Harriet and Kim, give a sweet tone with their violin, xylophone, keyboard, guitar and delicate vocals softening even the darkest verses in their song selection. I thought I even spotted a subtle Sleater-Kinney influence on the backing vocals at times so I was not surprised when I read that “One Beat” is Kim’s #1 on her top 10 best albums of the last decade. The band is very energetic and charismatic and it’s not a coincidence that there is an exclamation point after its name. It looks like they had dozens of energy drinks before the performance and it’s quite contagious.