By GAVIN SNIDER
With a little persistence and a little luck, Los Campesinos! could do for Wales what Flight of the Conchords is doing for New Zealand. That is, they could remind Americans of their country's existence, and maybe even make us aware of its general location on a map. This is what I knew about Wales before checking Wikipedia:
1. There is a city in Wales called Cardiff.
2. There is a band from Cardiff named Los Campesinos!
3. There is a general disdain for vowels in Wales. They are only used when absolutely necessary.
4. Wales is west of England (actually, I had to look at Wikipedia for that one).
In spite of my geographic ignorance, I went to the Los Campesinos! show at the Bottleneck on Tuesday night with high hopes. With two albums and an EP of loud, frenetic pop music, Los Campesinos! have made a name for themselves in the indie world as one of those unique bands that values energy over quality and actually gets away with it. Each of one their releases has featured a few standout songs with a perfect balance of catchiness and optimistic energy. Their music (and, for that matter, their live show) wouldn't be nearly as exciting without its imperfections.
Titus Andronicus opened the night with a wave of feedback and a Mike Tyson voice-over. I'm the best ever. I'm the most brutal and most vicious and most ruthless champion there's ever been. There's no-one can stop me...My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat his children.
The band proceeded to tear through a set of songs as brutal as Tyson in his prime, a collection of indie rock anthems that were enthusiastic, unapologetic, noisy as hell. When he needed a break from screaming, frontman Patrick Stickles told stories, tall tales of the band's ill-fated Wichita show and his own desperate struggle to find his meds that were lost in the mail.
Highlights of the set were many. The song "Titus Andronicus Forever" started off like "Greased Lightnin'" and devolved into a cover of "You Ain't Nothin But A Hound Dog," the Elvis version. Upon crowd request, Titus also played a terrific cover of a song called "Waking Up Drunk" by the Spider Bags. The Spider Bags, according to Stickles, are the best band in America, better than Animal Collective, and Fleet Foxes, and Bon Iver, and apparently every other band hyped by Pitchfork (sorry, Los Campesinos!).
Titus Andronicus, equal parts punk rock and Americana, was at its best when all the band members joined in for the uplifting sing-a-longs: YOU'LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER, YOU'LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER, YOU'LL ALWAYS BE A LOSER (but that's okay), and YOUR LIFE IS OVER! YOUR LIFE IS OVER! YOUR LIFE IS OVER! I guess it all sounds hopeless if you listen to the words, but I don't believe these guys for a second. They're having way too much fun playing these songs.
With seven members and an assortment of keyboards, glockenspiels, and floor toms, the Bottleneck's stage was full for Los Campesinos! set. Frontman Gareth Campesinos! (probably not his real name) has adopted the tried and true formula put forward lately by Art Brut's Eddie Argos, and postulated by the Fall's Mark E. Smith before him, in which a man with a British accent shouts clever lyrics while the band plays loud as hell.
Aleksandra Campesinos! (probably not her real name), provides the counterpoint to Gareth's delivery, singing softly and sweetly, and sometimes getting lost in the mix. It was an all-ages show, but instead of watching the usual mass of high schoolers form a half-assed mosh pit, I spent the night dodging grown men who were jumping around and dancing. This is a refreshing and ultimately hilarious thing to see at a show, and a compliment to any pop band. On "You! Me! Dancing!," Gareth lamented his own poor dancing abilities, then proved his point by awkwardly hopping around the crowd. We weren't quite sure what to do.
Much like the band's recordings, the set was equal parts catchy and grating. Los Campesinos! wall of sound was more like a wall of treble, with violin, guitars, and keys rarely straying from their upper registers. Their best songs were made even better by the manic energy of their live show, and the insanely catchy guitar and keyboard riffs were still on repeat in my head when I woke up in the morning.
Of note: Although Gareth Campesinos! had never been to Lawrence before, he did go to high school with an al-bee-no (British for albino) named Lawrence.
Here's the Los Campesinos set list: