Midway through their set, one of Los Campesinos!’s (not sure to punctuate that) keyboards died. It didn’t break; it ran out of batteries. The batteries they had been using were given them at a previous show by a fan who took them out of his camera so that the show could go on. Gareth, Los Campesinos!’s frontman, apologized to the crowd: “We were going to play a popular song, I guess we can’t play it now.” He then quipped, “Here’s where you go home and write on your blog one of two things- either we were sloppy and unprofessional, or, you got to sit in on a band practice!” A few songs later, batteries procured, the band ripped through the previously skipped “We are Beautiful, We are Doomed.”
This is one anecdote among many from the band’s relatively short career that reinforces their reputation as approachable, affable, friendly, whatever. Music writers love to talk about how Los Campesinos!, and Gareth in particular are a throwback to a different, earlier era of indie rock, one based on community and collaboration rather than isolation, both personal and artistic. The band publishes a cool zine, they were brought up listening to K Records and Sarah Records, they have an active blog, and there’s also the fact that there’s seven people in the band. All of this is easy to talk about, but it always sounds like critical posturing. In recent indie music criticism we have the myth of Justin Vernon going alone into the woods and producing For Emma, Forever Ago, we have currently a growing sense of ‘class warfare’ in coverage of The Black Keys’ rise to prominence, and then there’s Los Campesinos!. They’re nice. They’re fun. They sing about embarrassing things and being bulimic and self hate.
The show at the Paradise Friday night marked the start of an American tour for Los Campesinos! Openers Parenthetical Girls were equal parts bizarre and endearing. Los Campesinos kicked off their set with three of their biggest singles. Starting with current single “By Your Hand,” they followed with “Romance is Boring” and “Death to Los Campesinos!” producing a 10 minute period of pure movement and energy in the crowd. I was, like everyone around me, drenched in sweat by the time Gareth announced that they had, “played three popular songs to tire you all out so that we can play our slower songs.” There’s a certain collaboration in the band’s dynamic with the crowd, and this, I think, is where the band’s reputation for being personable really comes through. Gareth pulled off a guy’s Budweiser sweatshirt, commenting on their beer commercial by way of introducing “You! Me! Dancing!” But he also took sweaters and jackets from people crushed by the crowd at the front of stage, holding on to them until after the show. More than anything, what makes Los Campesinos! and their shows fun is that they don’t act like anything other than regular people. There’s not theatrics, no pretension, nothing to let on that being in a band is some kind of performance of an identity. Gareth joked at one point that couples weren’t welcome at the show because, “you should come to Los Campesinos! shows with hatred in your heart.” But that shared hatred, the playful nihilism, the improperly public movement of affirmation in the face of feeling directionless and stagnant at 25, or whatever age, is what makes Los Campesinos! a band with a loyal following and a community of fans that will buy a quarterly zine. Los Campesinos! has a fanbase that needs them just as much as much as the band needs their fans.The crowd is a necessary half to any concert, but watching Los Campesinos! play “By Your Hand” on Letterman the same night, you come to realize how much energy the band draws from the crowd, and frankly how good it feels to be part of huge group of people all unashamedly cheering reminders that “each and every one of you will die alone.” On Lettermen they look flat. Without a crowd it’s not clear how to react to the band’s performance; it’s like they aren’t even sure how much to give to the song. But once Dave comes out to to thank them and wrap up the show, you can sense an immediate wave of relief among the band. There’s someone there who cares. When Los Campesinos! opened with “By Your Hand” on Friday it was an immediate shot of energy. Los Campesinos! are a great band, one of the most consistent bands of the last 5 years, but to succeed live they need a crowd that is willing to give themselves over to frenetic, self-conscious worrying about one’s soft gut and joyful laughter at the altered lyric, “do you suck your daddy’s dick with that mouth?”