LOS CAMPESINOS! / COPY HAHO / SPARKY DEATHCAP, 29TH OCTOBER 2009, OXFORD ZODIAC
Sparky Deathcap aka Robert Taylor describes his music as sounding like "ghosts in the night trying to get into a locked caravan" - which, in case you're lacking in imagination, sounds quite a bit like Jeffrey Lewis to most who’ve clapped ears on him. As you might expect from someone who's written a rock opera for ukelele composed in less than 24 hours and who draws cartoons to accompany his show (the headliners' frontman Gareth is performing PowerPoint duties tonight), he’s not your conventional singer-songwriter, possessed of deft and witty lyrical touches that illuminate deceptively simple songs like ‘Berlin Syndrome’. He begins another one about Halloween by claiming it’s the one night of the year you can go out on a date if you’re ugly. And less proves to be more, the gradual accumulation of Los Campesinos! members as the set progresses actually diluting rather than enhancing the quality of the performance.
Copy Haho take to the stage safe in the knowledge that they already have fans in Oxford, local label Big Scary Monsters having released their debut EP Bred For Skills & Magic. The Scots aren't exactly short of friends - they're named (along with the headliners) as being members of Johnny Foreigner's "family" in the sleevenotes to new album Grace And The Bigger Picture. Hook-heavy guitar pop with an abrasive underbelly is their modus operandi – comparing them to The Rakes wouldn’t be much of an endorsement, so let’s go for the neatly-turned-out offspring of The Wedding Present and Arctic Monkeys instead. Time will tell if the quartet have quite the skills and magic to become as famous as their home town Stonehaven’s other significant export, the deep-fried Mars Bar, but there’s no doubt which of them is the most nutritious.
As I'm sure you're all thoroughly bored of hearing, I’ve known Los Campesinos! since they were knee-high to a genuflecting grasshopper. So tonight is almost as surreal an experience for me as it is for them: some way from their birthplace of Cardiff, being pawed at by hordes of lust-eyed teenagers, playing the first birthday party for a promoter named after their signature song.
The fact that said song, ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, is sarcastically introduced as ‘Creep’ suggests (sadly) that it really has become the "embarrassing albatross around their collective necks" that I suspected a year ago - something that everyone wants to hear but that they’re increasingly reluctant to play. Nevertheless, party poopers Los Campesinos! are most certainly not (even despite having been officially diagnosed with swine flu, new vocalist/keyboard player Kim - a replacement for Aleks, who's returned to her studies - being equipped with a bucket in case of mid-set technicolour yawn). So play it they do and it’s met with the anticipated delirium. (No doubt delirium was also the order of the day when, a few nights previously, they curated a stage at Cardiff's Swn Festival, headlining a bill that also featured another member of Johnny Foreigner's "family", Dananananaykroyd.)
Los Campesinos! are no one-hit wonders, though – far from it. Debut album Hold On Now, Youngster continues to be well represented in the set ('Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' remains the brilliant final act) and tracks like ‘Ways To Make It Through The Wall’ drawn from its darker, spikier successor We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed are really beginning to come into their own.
At the expense of some older gems (‘The International Tweexcore Underground’ is a particularly lamented omission) and others less fondly remembered by the band (a request for 'It Started With A Mixx' is met with a derisive "We're not playing our old shit songs"), there’s also room to showcase material from forthcoming LP Romance Is Boring, due out in the new year. The chorus of the title track has significant earworm potential, but 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future' - which finds Gareth muttering grimly about cutting off tongues and the fact that "she's not eating again" - hints heavily at a more contemplative, considered, grown-up future.
But – for the present, and especially given the circumstances – it’s the scatty, bratty, livewire Los Campesinos! we want, and that, largely, is what we’re delighted to get.