[5 December 2011]
Hello Sadness, the fourth proper LP from Welsh septet Los Campesinos!, came out too late in the year to be considered for PopMatters’s Best Albums of 2011. Like the band’s best material, that’s a serious heartbreaker: Hello Sadness is LC’s strongest effort yet, a record that finally sees the band consistently blending its razor-sharp wit with serious, sturdy power-pop songwriting. Los Campesinos! made a stop at Washington, DC’s Black Cat during its brief US tour this autumn, and the results were as cathartic and invigorating as Hello Sadness itself.
First, however, the audience had to struggle through a set by openers Dinosaur Feathers. On the whole, the Brooklyn band isn’t so different from Los Campesinos!; Dinosaur Feathers, too, plays power-pop heavy on harmonies and big choruses, with a bit of noise thrown in for good measure. However, Dinosaur Feathers doesn’t seem to have an ounce of the musical creativity or lyrical charm possessed in spades by their tourmates. The band’s songs were bland to the point of offense—if an opener is going to be disappointing, at least they could have the decency to be bad. No, Dinosaur Feathers weren’t even good for schadenfreude, just time spent at the bar.
The upside: by the time Los Campesinos! took the stage, the crowd was more than ready. With all seven members crammed onto the Black Cat Stage, LC launched into Hello Sadness opener, “By Your Hand”, an anthemic singalong in the best of the band’s tradition. Frontman Gareth Campesinos! is like an equally debauched but somehow more huggable Jarvis Cocker, all droll one-liners and loutish charm. He spent the night pantomiming his lyrics on stage, or alternating between hands-behind-back intensity and Glockenspiel-fueled bouncing. Gareth’s voice sounds stronger than ever, edging into baritone territory; when LC played in 2010 at DC’s 930 Club, for example, his vocal performance didn’t sound quite as assured. Now, he—like the rest of the band—has come into his own as a consummate performer.
Los Campesinos! was right to feature material from Hello Sadness during their set, playing seven out of the album’s ten tracks. Judging by fan reaction, pogoing and clapping along in a frenzy, the record has become an instant hit. LC knew, too, when to delve into its deeper catalog; its biggest hit, “You! Me! Dancing!” came late enough into the night to allow for suspense (and release), but the band, perhaps duly wanting to exit from the shadow of its earlier, more precious material, didn’t give the song a set-closing spotlight. Per tradition, Gareth did still dive into the crowd for the night’s final number, “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”, where he received a hero’s welcome.
At this point in its career, Los Campesinos! has enough material for its live shows to come across as Greatest Hits performances. The band plays its role as curator in expert fashion, choosing the best cuts from last year’s superb Romance is Boring, storming through the title track and “There are Listed Buildings,” slowing it down with “The Sea is a Good Place to Think About the Future” and “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State”, and allowing the audience to join in a wonderful, full-throated rendition of the a capella coda in “Straight in at 101”.
Though nearly every member of the group sings (bassist/heartthrob Ellen Campesinos!, removed), Los Campesinos! left the stage banter to Gareth. He expressed his gratitude to the audience during a brief aside, describing the opportunity to play “halfway around the world” as humbling. Later, he’d repeat the sentiment, but with a classically Campesinos spin: “This is a really fun thing to do, and here is song about how each and every one of you fuckers is going to die alone”. At least he and Los Campesinos! make feeling bad feel really, really good.
By Your Hand
Romance Is Boring
Death to Los Campesinos!
Life Is a Long Time
A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State
Songs About Your Girlfriend
Straight in at 101
There Are Listed Buildings
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1
The Black Bird, The Dark Slope
You! Me! Dancing!
The Sea Is a Good Place to Think About the Future
Baby I Got the Death Rattle
My Year in Lists
Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks