Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Los Campesinos! at Brixton Windmill

Los Campesinos! @ Brixton Windmill, 14/4/08

Upon arriving at the tube station, I braved the streets of Brix-ton and eventually made it up the hill (alive) to the tiny pub in the middle of a residential street where Los Campesinos! and friends were patiently awaiting them. So in I went, to the sounds of opening act Lovvers and shortly after, the main support act Sky Larkin. Both were delightful.

But now onto the focal point – from previous experiences of seeing Los Camp! live, they’ve consistently teetered the line between imperfection and shambles; always on the verge of greatness. Tonight, however, the iceberg is all and for once overcome – a piece of magic occurs before our very eyes, just not quite in the way I expected it. Aleksandra, Ellen, Gareth, Harriet, Neil, Ollie and Tom took off their masks (yes, literally) and revealed their true identities. It may be hard to believe, but the fact is thus: they are all in fact middle-aged accountants, living their dreams. Well, to an extent anyway – the music that they have been ‘performing’ is in fact nothing to do with them. They’re mere mime artists who can’t play any of their instruments, just like Milli Vanilli; and prosthetics these days can be truly convincing. ‘Don’t Tell Me To Do The Math(s)’ was inspired by purchase ledger, it’s later admitted.

Tonight is the night that they finally tire of the charade and confess that in fact they haven’t the foggiest idea about the back catalogues of Pavement, Beulah, Xiu Xiu, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone or bis and in fact they far prefer listening to Jameses Morrison and Blunt, KT Tunstall and The Feeling. At first, the audience almost uniformly faint in disbelief. But then they realise that what they are witnessing is a true one-off event, the unveiling of the self in a post-Freudian world – the pastiche to top all pastiches, accompanied by one thing remaining relentlessly consistent throughout - yes, that’d of course be the handclaps and manic dancing. What else is there to do in a situation so bizarre?

It doesn’t matter what Los Campesinos! really look like anymore as they launch into their fantastic cover versions of ‘Fill My Little World’ and ‘You’re Beautiful’ with the help of just a CD backing track – they almost blow the roof off of the venue when the crowd yelps along to the performance of Paolo Nutini’s ‘Last Request’. Los Campesinos! may not be from Cardiff or write their own songs but tonight they prove themselves to be more convincing than anything seen this century. It’s a sonic revolution. And we, for one, can’t believe that the songs that they are covering somehow escaped us the first time around. ***

*** The above review is entirely fabricated – at the height of the gig’s climax, the band made the audience form a pact, swear an oath or something of similar ilk not to blog or review the festivities. Though who can tell whether we’re bluffing, double bluffing or giving you a true recollection after all… that’s the joy of Los Campesinos! We’ve even got the setlist sat right in front of us, but we’re not ones to go back on our word. Though all I can tell you is that the word “dichotomy” figured and we overheard a less knowledgeable (well, clearly) gig-goer enquire whether its definition was “some sort of operation”.

Crawling It: The Camden Crawl 2008


A crumpled melange of beer cans and fag-ends led the path to The World’s End. It’s just before 3pm and I’d rather not get a feel for the atmosphere in the streets just yet; I’d much rather choose The Bad Robots and a warm pint. Here’s the brief: “State your lazy list of influences and mimic them”. They accordingly and incoherently concur, around forty years too late to be revolutionary. ‘Just Shut Up’ is aptly the name of one of their songs. Alas, off I went in search of something more desirable (or at least less derivative), capitulating my pursuit at the back of a yard hanging out with the older, more embarrassed folks waiting for Hadouken! Something like this, is requested: “If you’re a Hoxton Hero or an Indie Sindy, show your hands (innit)”. Is it etiquette to question the ridiculousness of them trying to pass this off as post-ironic? It’s like an episode of ‘Skins’ without the rhetoric.

Back to the pub for some solace which isn’t nearly met by Coral/Cast/sub-Beach Boys hybrids, The Standards. It’s a catalyst at least; an epiphany where I realise that the Crawl is a double-edged sword where the poor man’s Oasis (er, a squatter that’s been robbed then?) become God’s gift for the day. So defiantly I tell them to shove their guitar bands – especially when Sam Sparro’s only a sandwich pitstop away. This divine event could also be monikered “the nearest you’ll ever get to seeing Prince in Camden” (well, since his KOKO show last year). Holographic leggings, white-rimmed sunglasses, a kaftan, some slick lighting, and a warbled pre-amble to a song about “beating the shit out of your significant other” – affirmative, there’s movement! A shuffle, a head-sway in the line of the strangely familiar. His musings on songs like ‘21st Century Life’ are a tad trite but they’re clothed in gloriously fizzy synth enough to negate them.

Next stop, Tronik Youth - at a sparsely populated Dingwalls. It’s not fair to the poor bloke that the punters are queuing outside much smaller venues; it’s definitely a misplaced scheduling. His loops are caustic and Krautrock-recalling enough but he looks a tad lost in the middle of the stage all on his lonesome. Esser fares better by resembling a forest (on the upper half of his head). He’s got intricate, Jamie T/Hot Chip pop to boot – certainly the most memorable hooks thus far. The audio’s a tad muddied which lets him down, though I’m re-renewed once more.
And the glee continues with its necessary counterpart, the backache, as I brap (yes, it’s a verb now) my way through The Black Cap to see where the grindie schmindie’s coming from - Toddla T, as it turns out. I’m actually here for he tiny blonde elf-like creature also known as Lykke Li, who enters the equally tiny stage accompanied by tribal rhythms in a sea of electro-folk. It’s nothing new, and her knowing eyes veer towards a pedestrian performance. The crowd’s heaving but I’m left cold other than by ‘Little Bit’ which given, is rather pretty.

The sun’s set and I’m sick of the politeness. So it’s all about the audience? Not really. Future Of The Left do the trick nicely, offerings like ‘Manchasm’ the highlights of a breakneck sprint of a performance. The ‘pit’ smashed each other up whilst I got my voyeuristic thrills, standing in the corner watching events unfold. The performance itself was spirited, witty, powerful and restoring. Their twisted words aren’t anywhere near as self-conscious as Mclusky, and their more delicate moments are far more pensive.

And on with the chronology as Friday draws itself to a close against my will. I’ve scheduled in around eight hours of that requisite activity known as sleep and then I’m ready to go again, ears still ringing, mindspace still mostly akimbo. This non-festival ain’t no smorgasbord unless you read outside of the guide and go a-wandering. I’ve realised this halfway through, so it’s about time I get on the adrenalin kick and see as many acts as physically possible.

Some geezer’s faux-busking in The Camden Eye, what a crock of shit. Faux-busking? As in organised busking? Inside? It’s all in a name but it’s got my goat. I gravitate back towards The World’s End to witness the last bits of LR Rockets’ set – the singer’s halfway into the audience by now and the rest of the band seem intent on following suit. That trick’s been pulled before but the stench of perspiration suggests they mean it. The music fared far better than the smell – a glam Young Knives. I could’ve stayed but the drizzled pathway to the Roundhouse glared at me oh-so-temptingly. On the way I ran into an impromptu, never-ending set on a street corner from Chalou St Jude. It was about the fiftieth time I’d heard that post-’12:51’ background riff, and to further detract, featured possibly the only vocalist ever to intentionally mimic Johnny Borrell and at the same time try to score cool points for putting on a guerrilla gig. High praise indeed.

In a battle with myself, my more tasteful persona won and entered the plush surroundings of The Roundhouse for the first time for Joana and The Wolf’s set as part of the fringe event, Futureshorts. Can’t get more pretentious (or precocious, as it turned out) than the rescoring of a series of short films in a dark room of people sitting down on carpet almost in rows with a huge plasma screen on the stage and the band containing themselves either side of it to showcase their ‘study’. And oh me, oh my – it happens to be the most intense, grandiose, piercing, all-consuming performance this side of the Northern line. Elements of Chan Marshall’s ferocity hit at first, the aftermath bringing with it the realisation that this is the first band I’ve ever seen who recall Life Without Buildings. That is really something. It’s really all about the vocals, but the band is fine too- Shoegazey guitars, cascading and sinewy bass, punchy and thumping drums – it’s worth £49.50 alone. The shrillness is mesmeric, boundless and schizoid. It’s not a sound for the faint hearted, but who cares for the weak anyway. Must say, plaudits to the sound engineers too – it’s a top notch setting.

I draw myself away, buzzing, and hap upon One Night Only in a record store. I can’t see them from the back, nor do I care to. And there’s a time when no words are necessary, although I’ve defeated my purpose by saying that. These are words just to sketch around the point, rather than to dance upon it. I briefly stare at a pub by the name of Tommy Flynn’s before entering to find quite excellent Stockton-on-Tees four-piece The Chapman Family. Think Futureheads or original post-punkers Wire or Gang of Four; they’re a snapshot of raucous, crotchety, call-to-arms guitar pop. A pleasant interlude.

Too peripheral and chocka for longer than one set all the same, I’m quickly off to a packed-out Koko for Los Campesinos!; it’s a marvel that “decorating envelopes for foreplay” has managed to fill the Crawl’s largest venue. From Architecture In Helsinki comparisons to string-led beauty, it’s always a cacophony. Gareth manages to break the band’s £55 keyboard somewhere along the line but songs like ‘International Tweexcore Underground’ and ‘You! Me! Dancing’ still sound on top form. Their idiosyncrasies are slightly lost in the large arena, all the same.
Official Secrets Act take to the stage across the road at the Purple Turtle with four-part harmonies, homo-erotic jostling (perhaps I read that bit in), and more to the point ridiculously tight, taut and stern-faced. ‘The Girl from the BBC’ is the highlight, if you like your guitar-pop somewhere between XTC’s stop-start, Good Shoes’ intonation, Max├»mo Park’s exultant organ chords and Placebo’s foreboding. Faith in has been restored amidst a stream-of-consciousness featuring concerns such as: (a) why The Fratellis are headlining; (b) why so many people like them; (c) why listeners don’t, in the majority, want more than a carbon copy of something that was never great in the first place; (d) whatever happened to the notion of a varied repertoire, and (e) why The Fratellis are headlining. Not that anything today brought that thought process on, mind.

What tense am I in? Past, now. It’s only because Ipso Facto weren’t great that they’re recalled as a distant memory. Four Karen O bowlcuts dourly repeating two bars of ‘Tainted Love’. Ouch? Yes, especially as on record it’s less knowing. I stayed two songs and drifted towards Pull Tiger Tail mid-set, because I could. Yup they’re still gigging, whiney vocals an’ all. Time for some respite and the nearest toilet happened to be in the Electric Ballroom, where White Lies were about to begin. Press passes don’t allow for WC queue-jumping apparently (nor at bars) (and yes, back to present tense and happier again), so I only had time to see one less-than-astonishing song. It situated itself somewhere between Simple Minds and The Kooks, for convenience’s sake.

Wild Beasts are a funnier bunch, far more exciting. All of this “like x fronting y“ nonsense above is just a way of demarcating potential listeners really, except when I’m being deadly serious like now. So here it comes, no more hyping up apart from the punchline: they are Freddie Mercury fronting a C86 band, ‘tache included. A band like Kendal’s Wild Beasts only comes around once in a lifetime, and it’s a huge surprise that their falsetto/baritone/tenor triple-vocalled jangle-pop hasn’t attracted them more acclaim just yet. It’s a strangely refined catcall with epic highs and lows within each song. ‘Assembly’ and ‘Through Dark Night’ are stark, polarising and more to the point – simply magnificent.

It’s almost the end of the billed entertainment and who can provide a better conclusion than Crystal Castles. Sure enough they’ve not a clue what the heck they’re doing, and there is that one “rarrrrrrh” sound running through the whole repertoire but it’s a damn good sound. Alice Glass is being touched up by hoards of today’s inebriated youth and the regular world is way more than a thought away as every orifice/wall/limb shakes involuntarily to the blips and beats of ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Alice Practice’. It’s an indomitable attack upon the surrounding arena, a pulsating quasi-rave to the point of exhaustion.

And the rest of the night scales into a mess of indie celebrity spotting and too much Red Stripe. That’s the way to do it. Thanks Camden, I’ll surely be back soon.