Los Campesinos! + Titus Andronicus
14 Feb 2009: Bowery Ballroom New York, NY
You might expect a Valentine’s Day concert to be kind of mushy—couples wrapped around each other, swaying to their favorite songs, etc. etc. But anyone attending the last two nights of Los Campesinos!’ tour with New Jersey quintet Titus Andronicus ought to know better; both bands took time during their sets on the 14th to wryly note that we were spending our evening listen to songs about bitterness, disillusionment, and hate.
Titus Andronicus certainly lived up to that billing, thrilling an audience that was audibly there as much to see them as the headliners and flexing the kind of muscle that the kitchen-sink production on their fine debut The Airing of Grievances occasionally muffled. There were surprising hints of everything from synthpop to country rock in the band’s performance, but disheveled frontman Patrick Stickles held it all together with his howl, and things got raucous enough that guitarist Neil Campesinos! was able to go crowd surfing the second night during the opener’s set.
It’s key to the appeal of Los Campesinos!, meanwhile, that their songs are more energetic and effervescent than you would think the (bracingly intelligent and sarcastic) subject matter would allow, and this is only more pronounced live. Gareth Campesinos! told the crowd that the band was going to try and play every song they were capable of live between the two nights—which is not the same as every song on their albums. There was no “Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time”, and even some old favorites like “Knee Deep at ATP” were skipped. But maybe a better way to put it would be that the band played every song they’re still comfortable with playing—Gareth introduced the great “…And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison” with an apology to anyone there who didn’t want to hear “album tracks,” and when the band encored the second night with fan favorite “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” they announced this was probably the last time they’d be playing the song for the foreseeable future.
See, Los Campesinos! are at a bit of a crossroads, not that you would guess that from their energetic and impressive live show. After putting out two brief but spectacular albums in 2008 they’re still playing songs from their first EP, and the band’s restless, spiky intelligence is such that they’re not really content relying on things they wrote when they were teenagers. “You! Me! Dancing!” and perennial set closer “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” are likely to remain on the set list forever (the former with a snatch of Pavement’s “Box Elder” thrown into before the intro proper), and thank goodness for that, but this is mostly a band intent on looking forward. Sandwiched between those two songs was the title track from We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and although its relative novelty kept it from having quite as much crowd impact, the performance of that song and the opening “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” were if anything fiercer and more exhilarating than Los Campesinos!’ relative classics.
Not that these nights were all chaos and energy—Stickles closed Titus Andronicus’ set on the 15th with a rendition of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” as a duo with Harriet Campesinos!, and relatively quieter songs like “Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1” and “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” showed that Los Campesinos! are less of a one-note band than doubters initially assumed. But the overwhelming impression of the crowd when they think back to these shows is more likely to be the way half of Los Campesinos! performed the first night’s encore from the middle of the crowd, the sweaty surge and whirl of our packed bodies during “You! Me! Dancing!” and the charged euphoria that the band can bring to bear on even their bleakest laments. It’s laudable and exciting that the band refuses to rest on its laurels live, but it also means that anyone who likes their recorded material needs to catch them in this environment as soon as possible.