Monday, June 11, 2007

The glee club


As you might well expect from the name, Napoleon IIIrd (aka James Mabbett to his ma and pa) is something of a maverick spirit. His debut album In Debt To has been lauded by the likes of the Guardian, Drowned In Sound and Dazed & Confused amongst others. So, to whom is he actually in debt? Early Flaming Lips, I'd suggest, as well as Super Furry Animals and a bit of Brian Wilson at his most doolally - kind of like a one man Sleepy Jackson (ignoring for the moment that The Sleepy Jackson are effectively one man anyway...).

On stage he's entertaining enough, switching frequently between instruments and accompanied by a huge reel-to-reel tape player, but the songs themselves occasionally stretch self-belief into hubris - appropriately enough, given his chosen moniker. But displaying imagination should never be a punishable offence, so I'll let him off.

Second support act Help She Can't Swim are equally aptly named - though their frenzied art thrash suggests that Help She Can't Swim And She's Having Her Ankles Nibbled By A Shoal Of Particularly Peckish Piranha might be even more apposite. It comes as little surprise to discover that the foursome have not only found favour with Gareth Campesinos! (who performs a piercing punk parody of a rap battle with keyboardist / vocalist Leesey Frances about who has the best record collection), but also with Fantastic Plastic, the label who gave us Ikara Colt.

But the band who once released an album called Fashionista Super Dance Troupe containing the songs 'Bunty Vs Beano' and 'What Would Morrissey Say?' seem to be moving gradually away from their lo-fi cut-n-paste-fanzine indiepop-with-needlesharp-guitars roots. The crowd's response may be fairly flat, but if 'Hospital Drama', the excellent lead single from new record The Death Of Nightlife, is anything to go by, they could follow in the footsteps of Fantastic Plastic alumni like Ash, The Futureheads and Guillemots and break into the big time.

But, not for the first time, tonight is all about Los Campesinos! - and with even more justification this time.

For the septet, recently released from the shackles of end-of-degree exams, the gig marks the beginning of a very busy summer. In June alone they'll be playing at Wireless, Glastonbury and Razzmatazz in Barcelona, before crossing the pond for dates at the Hillside Festival in July and Lollapalooza and New York's Mercury Lounge in August. And that's not to mention the gargantuan UK tour just announced for October. Hard to believe that this time last year you could count the number of gigs they'd played together on two hands.

Tonight sees them returning to the scene of one of the key moments in their ascent. Last August they were hand-picked as support to Broken Social Scene by the Canadians themselves - and this year they're due to spend gaps between gigs continuing recording with the band's producer David Newfeld. Fairytales do come true, you see. And they don't come much better than headlining your adopted hometown's the most spectacular venue on the day the song which first propelled you to widespread attention, 'You! Me! Dancing!', hits the shops.

Suffice to say that it's everything I've come to expect from them - and more besides. Relative newie 'International Tweepop Underground' kicks things off, and we're treated to a handful of new songs, one with a potent chorus of "Woe is me, woe is you" and another starting off like an epileptic ceilidh band in a room full of strobes, flailing around like Gareth himself. Meanwhile their more established neighbours in the set are growing in assurance audibly, 'We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives' in particular sounding more like the single it was.

Sure, Aleks' mic is (as usual, unfortunately) too quiet, and the soundman appears perpetually perplexed by the way the songs shift in focus - but in fairness to him, he's hardly the first. And in any case there are plenty of fluffed lines onstage, all shrugged off with nods and smiles - nothing is allowed to get in the way of the pleasure principle.

That the aforementioned slice of genius 'You! Me! Dancing!' appears towards the end of a set brought to a conclusion by 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' may be predictable (even if the Pavement cover they sandwich isn't), but you're more likely to hear humility from Liam Gallagher than you are complaints from anyone here. What Los Campesinos! manage to do is to make glee something you can not only feel but also see, hear, touch and taste. It's irresistible.

So, bring on Glastonbury and 1.30pm on Friday on the new Park Stage. I'm deliberately avoiding the long-term weather forecast, but I gather that day's currently the only one of the weekend which promises to be dry. No matter if it's not - the sunshine-bringers will be there anyway.

(A big thanks to Tom, Gareth, Neil, Aleks, Ellen, Harriet and Ollie on behalf of Cardiff Friends of the Earth.)


Mei Lewis' photos of the gig

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