Los Campesinos! may have sold albums, toured the world, and risen to a level of stardom where fans fight over their sweaty towels, but they’ll still take the time to ask your girlfriend to prom for you.
Or at least that was the case for one lucky fan Friday night, whose request was announced between songs.
The band, from Cardiff, Wales, recently released their second official album, Romance is Boring. Their U.S. tour kicked off late due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland, which grounded planes in Europe for almost a week, but they made it to Chicago in time for an energetic, sweaty all-ages show at the Metro.
All of the seven, sometimes eight member band (Rob “Sparky Deathcap” Campesinos! joins them on tour) uses the last name Campesinos!
“We’re all one big family,” says Ollie Campesinos!, the band’s drummer. “We’re all Campesinos!”
That’s especially true now that vocalist Aleks Campesinos! has left to pursue a medical degree, and lead singer Gareth’s younger sister Kim has taken up the role of vocalist, keyboardist and flautist.
The band is sometimes described as “twee,” a genre that involves both male and female vocals and unusual instruments like the glockenspiel. Los Campesinos! has all of those things, but they bristle at the term, which is often associated with being “quaint” or “cute.”
“We’re more punk,” Ollie said, explaining that he and one of the other band members recently compared the amount of blood they had each gotten on their instruments while onstage. He blamed the mislabeling on lead singer Gareth’s penchant for wearing cardigans early in the band’s career.
Certainly Romance is Boring is far from cute. With each release, the band’s lyrics become a little darker than their earlier work, which already had a bitter undertone. Even their most upbeat songs have moments of angst, contrasting the bright sound of glockenspiel with lyrics like “Every single one of us is twisted by design.”
On their website, they describe their latest album as “a record about the death and decay of the human body, sex, lost love, mental breakdown, football and, ultimately, that there probably isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.” But no matter how down they get, their songs are still danceable.
Tension in the audience was palpable during the instrumental build up of one of the band’s first singles, “You! Me! Dancing!” Ollie played his drums standing on top of his stool, and once the lyrics started, the singing, dancing crowd started thrashing, violently ignoring any decorum of personal space or safety.
It’s hard to imagine anyone playing the glockenspiel fiercely, but in between singing and pantomiming lyrics, Gareth manages to utilize his tiny mallet to its full potential. During the encore song, guitarist Neil didn’t miss a beat of his solo, even as he was crowd surfing.
The band hasn’t distanced itself too much from their fans. They still answer fan e-mails, blog about their adventures on tour and answer questions via their Formspring.
“It’s not a chore at all. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people,” Ollie said.
That kind of down-to-earth familiarity has created a dedicated fan base. The audience became nearly riotous at the point that lead singer Gareth came into the crowd during one of the last songs.
The band is just starting to deal with these sorts of brushes with stardom. Last year, they visited South America for the first time and were swarmed by fans. “It almost felt like we were proper rock stars. People were chasing after us, getting autographs,” Ollie said. “It was like how the Beatles felt.”
But even with their rising popularity, the band doesn’t seem to be overly affected by illusions of grandeur. They still take time out of their show to thank their manager and others who have helped them.
According to Ollie, Los Campesinos! doesn’t yet have another album in the works, but they’re “always mucking around with things.”