Tooting Tram and Social doesn’t seem like an ideal place for a gig, with a barely raised stage making it impossible to see if you are under 5’5” and more than two rows back. Despite this, the high vaulted ceiling lit with chandeliers and dimmed light bulbs make it a refreshing change from the corporate O2 venues which pop up in every inch of the country. Los Campesinos! just about squeeze onto the small stage. The band has fluctuated over the past couple of years with only three original members still being a part of the band. It doesn’t matter though because Los Campesinos! are a set of ideas, not a group of egos. Lyrics are screamed like bible verses are by evangelicals. “You could never kiss a Tory boy/without wanting to cut off your tongue again” and “Oh we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking/but there is no fucking future” have come to epitomise the lives of the teenagers who have supported them over the past six years. Everyone watching Los Campesinos! tonight can tell how much they mean to the people shouting out the words.
There is something very exciting about watching a band play for themselves rather than anyone else, whether that be record labels or new fans. It gives them a huge amount of freedom with lead singer Gareth commenting that a lot of the setlist tonight is songs they enjoy playing, as opposed to songs which they are expected to play. It’s a freedom which comes from having spent a lot of time on the fringes as the band play ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ and Gareth muses on what a difference it might have made if they’d recorded a radio edit of the song. If a band are having a good time, so will their audience and it’s evident in the comments made that the band are indeed having a good time, enjoying playing together again having taken a brief break following their ‘No Blues’ album tour. They’re not selfish though and crowd favourites from earlier albums, such as ‘Knee Deep at ATP’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’ get a very enthusiastic reception.
Along with the enthusiasm, the emotion which goes into the performance is what makes Los Campesinos! such compelling viewing. ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’ is a slower piece of half spoken, half whispered word and more fearful bands might worry about playing it as their penultimate song of the set (before the encore). It works though because the band capture the whole room in the lyrics and the soundscape that they create from the quiet starting guitar riff to the crashing drums of the chorus. Even on higher tempo songs like ‘Romance is Boring’, the energy of Los Campesinos! feeds into the energy of the crowd and it’s not long before the security guards are having to do their best to stop people falling onto the stage.
Their set is a fascinating example of how the band have developed over the past six years. Like their fan base, Los Campesinos! have grown and there is a noticeable difference between songs from 2008 and songs from 2014. Gareth is proving himself to be one of the best lyricists around with lines like “I’ve thrown my goalkeeper forward, she’s catenaccio” using football references to describe a desperate attempt to get with someone who’s being frigid. Gone is the glockenspiel, as is the violin, leaving a stronger guitar sound. Tom’s writing and Gareth’s lyrics have allowed the band to evolve as the members have changed and the fans have grown up. Yet with newer music mixed in with older tracks, there remains a cohesive centre. The different sounds don’t clash, they simply reflect change.
Los Campesinos! are recording for BBC Radio 4 the morning after tonight’s gig, proving that they have finally become a band for your mum. Indeed, when I see my mum on Saturday she talks about how much she enjoyed listening to ‘that band I went to see the other night’. They seem unashamedly excited about this, happy to be playing the music to anyone and everyone. The enthusiasm, the emotion and their ability to grow as a group is why their shows are always so impressive. None of it is contrived. They are a truly special band.