by Bob Mcmahon
Los Campesinos! delivered an impressive show last night at The Firebird, but the real stars of the evening might have been the group's fans.
The devoted 150 or so patrons in the audience not only danced, jumped and clapped throughout the concert, but knew every one of the Los Campesinos'! verbose lyrics and yelled along to the band without abandon. And the majority of them screamed in delight to the inconspicuous first chord of "You! Me! Dancing!" This response enlivened the atmosphere at The Firebird and helped transform the night into something special.
Granted, these fans had plenty of reason to cheer, as Los Campesinos! played an energetic set packed with its best songs. The eight-piece Welsh band specializes in driving rhythms, brightly distorted guitar and synth riffs, with liberal doses of violin and glockenspiel.
And while its albums are nothing to sneeze at, Los Campesinos'! blend of orchestral pop shines best on the stage. The group's shouty vocals that sometimes grate on record become anthemic in concert, and the occasionally overstuffed arrangements somehow just translate better in person (perhaps it's the sheer amount of noise being made). There's also something to be said for the band's exuberance. Lead singer Gareth playfully bounces around as he sings and absolutely hammers his glockenspiel. His co-singer and sister, Kim, is slightly more subdued but still injects a sense of drama into her performance, and her clear, pretty voice provides a nice contrast to Gareth's wailing.
After leading off with decent readings of "In Media Res" and a couple of old favorites, the group hit its stride in "Romance is Boring," exhilaratingly pounding its circular chorus out of the park. Los Campesinos! rode this hot streak with great, peppy renditions of "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed," "These Are Listed Buildings" and "My Year in Lists," the last of which had the crowd jubilantly helping out on the count out section. This set up "You! Me! Dancing!" -- and oh was there dancing. As expected, the song's simple but naggingly catchy chorus was the evening's highlight, and no one in the audience could resist its charms. The rest of the concert satisfied but couldn't compete, though set-closer "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks" came close.
Birmingham, England trio Johnny Foreigner opened the night with a satisfying set of spiky yet melodic post-punk. The group's attack relied on the boy-girl vocal interplay between guitarist Alexei Berrow and bassist Kelly Southern and the zippy, precise drumming of Junior Elvis Washington Laidley. Laidley was particularly outstanding: He executed clean rolls, hit hard and played a mean keyboard, occasionally while also drumming. The group also did a good job of entertaining the audience with banter during frequent between-song tuning sessions.
For this tour, animator Ben Rausch is supplementing Johnny Foreigner by triggering loops of his hyperactive visuals, most of which somehow involve the band's Pac-Man ghost logo being projected onto a screen through a modified keytar. The effect in last night's show was odd but ultimately winning; the kinetic animation went well with Johnny Foreigner's spirited attack, though it took a few songs for Rausch to straighten out the kinks. Once he did, the band took flight and didn't let up, much to the approval of the receptive crowd.