Thursday, May 04, 2017

Los Campesinos!

There really is something quite entertainingly perverse about everything that Los Campesinos! do. Whether it is finishing their main set with the deliberately low-key coupling of 'The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future' and 'In medias res', or releasing two singles from latest album 'Sick Scenes' that most people can't even pronounce, let alone spell, it is as if the septet are determined to break every rule in the music industry book.

Heck, they even go so far as to break the last taboo and admit that, for them, this isn't the day job. Secretly, we all know about Dave Rowntree from Blur being a solicitor, or Kele from Bloc Party working in a cinema, but LC! singer Gareth Paisey standing on the Koko stage and admitting that four of the band have to go to work in the morning is a little unusual to say the least.

To some extent, they've always been that way. In their early days Paisey explained that he had decided to become a vegan because it was more challenging than becoming a vegetarian. They were smarter than the average band, wittier than the average band. They just weren't necessarily as good at making music as the average band. Their live shows were often chaotic, especially as fitting seven (sometimes eight) people onto all but the largest stages is a bit of a challenge. More significantly, they lost their way as Paisey struggled with both a bad relationship breakup and his own longer-term mental health problems. Ultimately, their record label lost interest and the various band members went off to pursue other projects, other careers.

All of which means that 'Sick Scenes' is their first album for four years, and this is their first appearance in the capital for two. It's the first time that I've seen them in even longer, after the last time ended in a furious Twitter row between Paisey and myself. Boy, what a difference that break has made to them. With only three original members remaining (Paisey, plus guitarists Tom Bromley and Neil Turner) this is a bigger-sounding, more confident, more composed Los Campesinos! than ever before.

Tonight they are even bold enough to open with current single 'Renato Dall'Aria (2008)' (remember what I said about those unspellable titles), whose cooing intro opens out into a barnstormer of a song which has the best part of two thousand people yelling '...a full-time a**hole' at the tops of their voices before the show is three minutes old.

There's pretty much no let-up from there. 'Romance Is Boring' is shouty and confident, 'What Death Leaves Behind' melodic and more cultured than the recorded version. Paisey has ditched the keyboard and glockenspiel that he used to play on stage now that multi-instrumentalist Rob Taylor is a full-time member of the band and relishes the extra freedom that this has given him, dancing and cavorting around centre stage like he was born to it. He hasn't lost any of the old spikiness, either. 'A Slow, Slow Death' is introduced with a short and pointed political speech. He criticises fans for crowd-surfing and forming a circle pit, albeit in a humorous way. But he's also disarmingly polite - thanking the venue staff for working on a Bank Holiday, for example - and makes a point of saying how much more fun this is than the last time the band played here.

It's a different kind of band, too. Of course, you'd expect the level of musicianship to go up over the years, but this is something more. The way that they segue from 'Knee Deep at ATP' to 'My Year in Lists' is so seamless, it's positively silken. New bass player Matt Fidler gives a new muscularity to the band (at one point, during 'Hello Sadness', my septum is vibrating from the bass notes, which is a first), Bromley picks arpeggios artfully and the whole performance is so smooth that you can fully appreciate what a wonderfully inventive - and witty - lyricist Paisey is.

Of course, very few shows are ever perfect. Again, in a very Los Campesinos! sort of way, they eschew a lot of fan favourites (no 'Death to Los Campesinos!', no '...And This is How You Spell...', among others) and indeed over half of the tracks from 'Sick Scenes' in favour of their own choices. It still sounds a bit wrong when Paisey and sister Kim duet on some of the earlier, more romantic, songs. And there's a worrying bit towards the end where six members of the band are celebrating and Taylor is stalking around like a bear with a sore head. For a band with such a personnel turnover over the years, that is a little concerning.

But what an ending it is. After opening with the daring vocal gymnastics of 'Fall of Home', LC! slide into their best-known number, 'You! Me! Dancing!' (which now comes complete with a reference to the Budweiser advert which used it) before the audience get to vote in the last number, the crashing 'I Just Sighed.I Just Sighed, Just So You Know'. Except that it isn't the last number, as suddenly they flip into a song that they rarely play nowadays, but which is one of the all time great closing numbers, 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks'. If you've never heard a band perform a song where the two singers are singing entirely different lyrics simultaneously and it still makes perfect sense  then you really haven't lived.

Los Campesinos! don't really do this sort of thing for a living anymore, but it is a crying shame that they don't. To paraphrase one of their song titles, Here's to the (Next) Time.

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