Los Campesinos – The Tunnels – 15th February 2010
It’s You! It’s Me! And It’s Dancing!
I really wasn’t in the mood for this. Not one bit. I’d been up till 4am the previous night before a crap day at work so by the time I got home at 5pm I was completely fried. By 7.30pm I was so vegged out on the sofa that I seriously considered the seeing out the end of Brendan Fraser’s slightly comedic exploits in Airheads as a viable alternative to the drive to Aberdeen for the gig. It took the fact I’d already shelled out for the ticket and some serious arm twisting from my younger son to finally get me out the door and into the car. As I’m driving through, I’m already dreading the return journey at the other side of midnight. Oh well, rock ‘n’ roll.
I arrived at the Tunnels about 8.15, got myself a shandy and headed for the already busy dancefloor. I ran into my mate Billy (who does the fabby Aberdeen Events podcast) who had secured a prime vantage point at the table at the top of the stairs so I joined him there instead. We chewed the fat for a short while as the venue filled up and four nondescripts took to the stage and began setting up.
Islet have garnered a wee bit of a reputation already as the band with no web presence. It would be a shame if that’s all they achieve as they make an interesting wee racket that really defies categorisation and proves to be very difficult to review. There’s three guys and one girl in the band – bass, drums, guitar, keys – who swap instruments between every song. The songs themselves veer between quiet rhythmic sections to a pounding atonal racket in places, random yelps and vocals drenched heavily in FX punctuating the music periodically. The structures are ever evolving, time signatures ever changing and, while this didn’t work for them all the time, on the whole I found myself getting sucked in and finding their sound strangely compelling. It’s not the sort of thing that I’d listen to it at home so how they’ll fare with future recorded work I don’t know, but they’re certainly worth seeing live at least the once.
After a short break, the next support is ready to rock. Swanton Bombs……a two piece in the White Stripes vein – i.e. Guitarist/Vocalist plus Drummer – but that’s where the comparison ends. The Swanton Bombs play classic cock-rock. Really! And to be fair, they’re fairly talented musicians with it, but quite what they’re doing on this bill is beyond me. It can only be a tour buy-on or someone shagging someone in the main band surely, they’re so out of place. I hated that kinda music back in the 70s when it was fashionable. I certainly don’t wanna hear it now…….without a bass! Seemingly most of the crowd felt the same as you could only hear the hum of conversation between songs until the singer said thanks and prompted a cursory clap or two. Sorry guys, hire a bassist and find a more appropriate bill.
And so onto the main event, Los Campesinos. For the uninitiated, they are an eight piece band from Wales who play cleverly worded songs of love and loss wrapped up in frenetic, hook-laden tunes featuring a huge range of instrumentation. Tonight we had on stage at various times two guitars, two basses, 1.1/2 drum kits, three keyboards, a violin, a flute and the perennial glockenspiel. This of course leads to a fairly chaotic onstage experience but the songs are executed with precision and panache. Soundwise, if you can imagine a poppier, janglier Arcade Fire that made you laugh then you’re somewhere in the ball park.
Anyway……………….despite being friends and previous tour partners of our local boys Copy Haho, this tour (in support of their third album Romance Is Boring) is the first time Los Campesinos have visited Aberdeen. I’m pretty sure they’ll have been impressed with the enthusiastic response they got from the capacity Tunnels crowd, who were bouncing from the off and crowdsurfing throughout. The set is unsurprisingly focused on the new album. We get faithful renditions of Listed Buildings, Straight In At 101 and a terrific run through Letters From Me To Charlotte. The sound is pretty good on the whole with all the various instruments meshing together well yet still distinct. I personally could have done with the vocals being turned up a notch or two (a common complaint of mine) to afford the Campesinos fantastic words a bit more clarity but it’s really a minor quibble. Romance Is Boring itself is preceded by a rousing crowd rendition of Happy Birthday for one of the band members.
Singer Gareth Campesinos is suffering from a chest infection and is clearly in difficulty at a couple of points in the set. However, he’s determined not to let us down and strains his voice raw to carry the songs through, helped along ably by his sister Kim and the massed ranks at the front of the stage. He’s got an engaging manner and is a good front man without being too showy.
The band doesn’t overlook their extensive back catalogue though and a few highlights from their previous records like Ways To Make It Through The Wall, Death To Los Campesinos! and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed are all rattled out at 100mph, while Miserabilia drops the frantic pace for a short respite.
Best reception of the night goes to You! Me! Dancing! which sees a massive outbreak of, well, dancing funnily enough. It also sees one of the guitarists take his life in his hands as he launches himself into the crowd for the first time this evening for a spot of crowdsurfing. I’d fully expected this to be their last number but they stay onstage for a couple more songs before finally finishing off with the wonderful Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks. During this, Gareth signals for the crowd to make room and he jumps in, continuing the song from the middle of the dancefloor. He’s soon joined by the crowdsurfing guitarist again. Fortunately things don’t get out of hand and both are returned safely to the stage by the end of the song. They say their goodnights to the crowd and leave the stage. Nobody is demanding of an encore tonight. They know that the band, and particularly their front man, has given everything they’ve got tonight.
As I make my way out of Tunnels looking at all the smiling faces around me, I’m pleased that I made the effort and came through tonight. It’s been a good night and I’m sure the band will have been encouraged by the response they got too. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they’re back again. And as for the drive home? Was it as bad as I’d feared? Was I nodding out at the wheel? No, of course not – I just stuck on the We Are Beautiful album and cranked it up!
New York Johnny