Los Campesinos! Rock the Thekla - Bristol
This is the first gig I have ever attended alone, and nerves hold me up ever so slightly on leaving the house – stupid, right? Well, I pay the price as I arrive a little late and miss the beginning of the opening band’s set.
It is quite a bewildering experience: within 2 minutes of my arrival, one cacophonous track has segued into another, and all four of the band’s members are in different positions on the stage, all having switched from one instrument to a completely different one. In fact, I don’t think there is an instrument on stage that isn’t played at least once by every member of the band during their disappointingly short set.
The band is Islet, and they spend the next 20 minutes breaking down all basic expectations of band structure – there is no concept of ‘the bassist’ or ‘the singer’, they are all simply ‘musicians’. The music itself is totally engrossing – unpredictable and lacking any conventional song structures, it somehow manages to come across as chaotic – and almost improvised at times – whilst progressing in a way that seems entirely natural. What with its abrupt changes in pace and tone, the frequent yelps and wails from all members of the band, and the almost desperate passion on display in every note played, I feel like this could be the musical soundtrack to someone slowly descending into madness. But they sure make it sound and look like a hell of a lot of fun. It’s like the most wonderful jam session imaginable.
The end of the final song finds the band standing as one, eyes to the heavens, looking as though they might all just collapse, singing a cappella. It’s as unexpected an ending as you could reasonably expect from such a performance, and the crowd loves it. This is a band that has to be seen.
I cannot help being a little bit disappointed by Swanton Bombs, the next act to take to the stage. It is not that they are not good – they are, in fact, very good. The guitar-playing is furious, and the drumming is, well, furious as well; for a duo, they certainly know how to fill a stage. And the singing is passionate, and the pace is captivating, and the crowd is caught up in it all, there’s no doubt about that. I think it all just feels a little straight forward after the experience that is Islet. Timing, as they say, is everything, and being sandwiched between Islet and Los Campesinos! is surely the worst of timings for any band. I thoroughly enjoy their set, but once it’s over I find that they have not made any very lasting impression on me. How differently might I have felt had they been on first?
In the interval between the second and third acts the crowd shuffles forward little by little, until everyone is rather more intimately acquainted with the strangers around them.
This is only the beginning. Los Campesinos! appear on stage and the cheering and whooping has barely died down when they launch into I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know, and en masse the entire dance floor becomes a sea of jumping bodies.
Much of the set tonight is dedicated to songs from the new album, Romance Is Boring. If I’m honest there were moments on the album that I didn’t altogether love on the first listen. I will forever be grateful for the power of live performance to amplify the passion and emotion of a recorded song to a volume that cannot help but make you feel it. Thus, songs like There Are Listed Buildings and Romance Is Boring take on a new energy in the flesh, and I find myself completely carried away in their flow. Gareth, the band’s frontman, is the vital connection between the band and the audience, and throughout the set all eyes are on him.
In contrast to Islet’s deliberate fracturing of the band structure – where the constant rearranging of the roles each band member played forced you to see each musician as an individual and divide your attention accordingly – Los Campesinos! are a solid unit, each with a specific part to contribute to the whole sound, and Gareth’s lyrics are the focus of that whole sound. As a result, the sense you get from watching them is one of the music and the frontman; the two stage personalities of this band.
One of the stand out moments on the album, and one of the songs I actually loved on first hearing, is even more powerful live – the brooding atmosphere of The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future coupled with the intensity of the almost shouted vocals of the chorus, manages to evoke the same passion and frustration evident in many of the songs on Romance Is Boring, but in a much more steady and measured way. It is a breath-taking song.
Other highlights of the set include You! Me! Dancing!, during which a minor mosh pit breaks out, and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, during which the crowd enthusiastically joins in at the easy-to-spot ‘shout-along’ moments. There really is something incredibly satisfying and cathartic about a room full of people all roaring at the top of their lungs ‘We kid ourselves there’s future in the f**king, but there is no f**king future!’
By the end of the set, I am panting so much I can barely join in with the chanting of the final lyrics of the night, but I push myself onwards, clinging onto the last few moments of this exhausting but exhilarating evening. The music dies away leaving just breathless voices and pointing hands in the air – One blink for yes, two blinks for no. Sweet dreams, Sweet Cheeks, we leave alone! And it’s over. Outside, in the chill of the dockside air, I contemplate all my potential bruises and broken toes with a smile – it has been a good night.
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