Los Campesinos! is probably the best pop band in the UK, though they may not be around to hold onto that crown for much longer. Their sold-out show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground is the last show the band have booked and, based on Gareth Campesinos’ cryptic statements, it may well be their last.
Gareth, the group’s lead singer and all-round leader, frequently makes reference to how enjoyable it is to play “with friends” and he is certainly not a man talking as if he expects the band’s future to be a hive of activity.
All of the band hold down full-time jobs and this tour represents a rare excursion for them. One has to wonder whether they will be able to continue justifying the cost of a six-piece band as they move towards “veteran” status with a solid fan-base, but which is unlikely to start growing.
The possibility of a long farewell and the somewhat festive nature of the show, makes for a celebratory atmosphere to the concert. It of course helps that the group are able to toss out two of their best songs, “Cemetery Gaits” and “By Your Hand”, with no discernible dip in quality throughout the rest of the near 20-song set.
The band also benefits from the outstanding acoustics at one of London’s best venues, even if the beer is overpriced and the cider shares its colour with Irn Bru. A band once labelled twee, it now has multiple guitarists and a rock sound; the brief appearance of the once ever-present glockenspiel seems to be greeted with indifference by them. The crowd lap up each and every song, pogoing themselves into such a fervour that the band is forced to stop during “We’ve Got Your Back” as those in the front are crushed up against the barrier.
Five albums in, it’s clear that the band, like The Smiths and other great British pop groups, has created a world that is unique to them. Bones are broken, boys are lovelorn and everyone is feeling a little bit gloomy.
The set leans heavily on the third album, “Romance is Boring” and last year’s “No Blues”, a wise decision as they focus on their two best albums. Briefly appearing the track, “When Christmas Comes” from their new record, “A Los Campesinos! Christmas”. It is a true Campesinos song but in a festive context; Gareth wanders through a rain – not snow – shower lamenting the departure of a lost lover.
It is perhaps the only downbeat moment in the set and is immediately followed by a five-song run that showcases the musicians at their best: “You! Me Dancing!”, “We Are Beautiful…”, “Avocado Baby”, “The Sea Is A Good Place…” and then their defining track, “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks”. It serves as proof of the unique ability of the band to craft outstanding pop songs, even if they probably never will translate them into chart hits (though they probably would have no interest in anything as gauche as pop success).
The band ends with an extended encore, clearly not wanting to disappear from the live stage for what could be some time. If this were to be the end of the band it would be sad to see a group bow out at their peak but at the very least they left the audience with something exceptional to remember them by.