“We’re Los Campesinos! and we’re from Cardiff. That’s an easy cheer,” smiles Gareth Paisey. None of the band are Welsh or call the capital home any longer, but Los Campesinos! evidently retain a deep affection for and attachment to their birthplace – and the crowd reaction at the Tramshed in Cardiff indicates that the feeling is very much mutual.
The circumstances for what is their first homecoming in around eight years are far from ideal. Support band Fortitude Valley have had to pull out on the day, scuppered by a positive lateral flow test – horribly unfortunate, but at least they hadn’t set off on the long drive down from Durham. With the threat posed by the Omicron variant rising and dates in London and Leeds scheduled to follow, Los Campesinos! have politely requested mask-wearing during the performance (a request that is respectfully observed) and Gareth apologises for their inability to meet and greet at the merch desk after the show as usual.
And yet the evening pans out as a classic case of triumph over adversity.
It’s been even longer than eight years since I last saw them, so what’s new? Well, guitarist Neil Turner now has some shoulder-length hair to shake around during his Sonic Youth wigouts. Bassist Matt Fidler has formed a fearsome rhythm section with drummer Jason Adelinia, lending the songs some low-end beef. And they’ve stopped haemorrhaging original members, with the line-up stable since 2014 – though the LC! clan continues to expand, resulting in the need to assign a crew member to childcare duties.
But in many ways, nothing’s changed. When it comes to literate pop punk with lung-bursting choruses (or “sleeper hits for weeping dipshits”, as their Twitter bio self-deprecatingly puts it), Los Campesinos! remain masters of the art, never afraid to throw in a cutesy keyboard line or a bit of flute to lighten the mood and balance out the chest-beating. Allez Les Blues and I Broke Up In Amarante may get us off to a somewhat shaky start, but they soon hit their stride with singles Romance Is Boring and By Your Hand. Fourth LP Hello Sadness – a favourite of the fans, if not the band themselves – is celebrating its 10th birthday, and its title track and The Black Bird, The Dark Slope turn out to be two of the evening’s high points.
At the heart of it all is Gareth, who sets the tone for the band’s Smiths-y lovelorn doomed romanticism, who finds endless lyrical mileage in overanalysing break-ups and sexual disasters and agonising over things he should have said or shouldn’t have done. (It’s a good job England didn’t win the Euros, because it would have deprived him of his go-to metaphor for tentative hope and crushing failure.) But any fears that Los Campesinos! are at risk of becoming merely a nostalgia act for those of us who dwell on the increasingly distant memory of youthful indiscretions are dispelled by the sizeable number of fresh-faced newbies in the crowd. Clearly, the (over)thinking man’s bedroom emo band continue to connect.
Returning for a four-song encore after an exhilarating Avocado Baby, Gareth has to take a seat on the stage, temporarily overcome with emotion at the realisation that he’s back performing for a sell-out crowd in the company of dear friends who until a week ago hadn’t seen each other for months. And soon some of us are tearing up too to Tom Bromley’s slow preface to You! Me! Dancing!, instantly transported back to the September 2006 gig that took place upstairs in Dempsey’s (RIP) before the Twisted By Design club night that lent the song its shoutout line.
Naming the 200 “most important artists” of their first 25 years recently, Pitchfork lauded Los Campesinos! as “the 21st century’s most endearing cult band.” The cap fits.
Tramshed, Cardiff, Mon 13 Dec
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos SIMON AYRE
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