Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Live: Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus

When: 2/15
Where: Bowery Ballroom

Los Campesinos!, a cute indie-pop band out of Wales, and Titus Andronicus, a ragtag gang of hardcore punks hailing from New Jersey, struck me as an odd pairing when they first announced their joint tour last fall. But they are both bands I love (both even appearing in my top five albums of 2008) and they also have in common a very young, manic, infectious energy.

I saw Titus Andronicus at Bowery in December, and my review of that show turned into a sort of essay on the evolution of punk music. This show was a rather different experience. Titus has changed in the last couple of months, or my ears have. They've added synth parts to some of their songs and overall, gained more polish and maturity in their sound. And to be honest, I was a bit disappointed by these developments. The band has lost a little of their edge as time has drawn them closer to convention.

photo from
Titus Andronicus

But don't despair! Titus is still very much punk and still played their long-winded punk numbers with intense energy true to their hardcore roots. Frontman Patrick Stickles did a stage dive as well as his usual jumping around, banging on the drums, yelling his head off and so on, with no apparent signs of tour-fatigue.

He spent a little too much of the set talking instead of playing, but his heartfelt thanks and farewell to touring companions Los Campesinos! on their final night together was very much called-for. In fact, the friendship between the bands only became clearer as members from Los Campesinos! darted on to stage during the Titus set, with Ollie Campesinos! even serving briefly as guitar tech. At the end of the set, Stickles did a farewell duo with Harriet Campesinos! covering Green Day's "Good Riddance." A terrible song, but despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek choice, it was very sincere and Stickles's gruff voice made their version far more enjoyable than the original.

When Los Campesinos! took over the stage, they launched into several songs off We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, followed by their very well-loved single "My Year In Lists." Honestly, the beginning of the set was troubling - something wasn't quite right, the parts didn't quite come together and the full effect of the songs was lost. However, as the show wore on, the band settled in and things started running smoothly. Right around the same time, about halfway through the set, all the Campesinos seemed to relax and suddenly, they were all ear-to-ear, kid-in-candy-store smiles, playing the hell out of their last show of what must have been an outstanding tour. Several band members followed Stickles in his stage diving (including Neil, guitar and all), surfing on the crowd for while before being delivered amicably back to the stage.

Photo by Grace deVille (from
Los Campesinos! (photo by Grace deVille)

The set list was amazing, featuring pretty much every song I really wanted to hear (except "Drop It Doe Eyes") and ended with a really beautiful rendition of "Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks." I don't know if what happened during that song was planned but it certainly seemed spontaneous. Gareth and the other fronting Campesinos went to the edge of the stage, standing on the monitors and singing the final repeating line to the audience. After a minute, members of Titus Andronicus and the other Campesinos wandered up one by one to join the chorus, sharing microphones and really pouring themselves into the moment. Planned or not, it felt like a surprisingly profound and personal moment between the bands and the audience. It was an amazing closer.

So what about the encore? I didn't believe they could follow up that ending, but sure enough, they trooped back on stage and played one final number, their early single "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives". After the end of the vocals, Gareth walked around the stage collecting every microphone he could find and placing all of them in front of the guitar amps, until the room was awash in a wall of sound. The members exited one by one, leaving the guitar pedals to roar alone for a few minutes before the sound shut off.

Los Campesinos! are a very young band, and while I expected a tight and energetic delivery and some youthful showmanship, the band's two powerful closing moments revealed a maturity I could not have predicted. Here is a band that plays for its audience and both as performers and as musicians, can put on an outstanding concert. And it seemed to be built sincerely on the warmest of feelings for each other, for their music and for their fans. From a bunch of college-aged kids, this is an incredible accomplishment. Hats off!

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