The loyal fanbase of the musical septet Los Campesinos! turned out in force at the band’s Bristol gig. The Thekla nightclub boat was home to a heaving mass of bodies that ebbed and flowed across the dancefloor throughout the night. A couple of mosh circles and crowd surfers emerged within the narrow confines of the ship’s hull, and singer Gareth joined in the fun near the end, delivering most of the encore hidden within the effervescent crowd.
Los Campesinos! are certainly an energetic bunch and their performance was full of confidence. Whilst the rhythms of bassist Ellen and drummer Jason drove every song forward with aplomb, it was the rather arrogant persona of Gareth that dominated the show. Between stage posturing and delivering most of the lyrics with a shout, he engaged in plenty of banter with audience members. Football was a recurring theme of his chat – he wanted to know the score of that night’s Chelsea game and he drew our attention to the amateur club he plays for (many of whom were present).
Opening with ‘By Your Hand’, the band worked their way through most of the tracks on their current album. The title track ‘Hello Sadness’ stood out alongside ‘To Tundra’, ‘The Black Bird, The Dark Slope’ and the provocative ‘Songs About Your Girlfriend’. In addition ‘There Are listed Buildings’ and ‘Straight in at 101’ were welcome nods to their 2010 Romance Is Boring LP, and ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ (from the 2008 album of the same name) was another journey into Los Campesinos!’s back catalogue.
Whilst there are plenty of instruments in Los Campesinos!’s arsenal – drum kit, bass, glock, flute, 2 keyboards, 1 synth, 2 or 3 guitars, plus lots of additional percussion – it was quite hard to pick out the contribution of individual instruments. Instead the band’s sound relied on the effects of mass and volume. And that’s the thing with Los Campesinos! – their power as a band is not equivalent to the sum of the parts. Band members (and their associated string and brass instruments) have come and gone over the years, due to both amicable partings of the ways and disagreeable spats, so the result is a ramshackle collection that creates a powerful but not altogether subtle performance.
For fans of Los Campesinos! it was undoubtedly a delight to see them return to the city that 3/7 of the band call home. But for others the sheer energy and self-belief of the performance was perhaps the most memorable part of the night.
Words and photos by Amanda Penlington