Los Campesinos @ O2 Academy Oxford – 23/3/12

It’s well documented that in their 6 years as a band Los Campesinos have slowly matured from being an energetic, scrappy youngsters releasing hooky, lyrically memorable indie fodder to a peculiarly melodramatic, painfully honest band releasing some of the most underrated music around at the moment. They have confidently morphed into the kind of band they themselves hero-worship; cult heroes writing songs for the eternally horny and heartbroken, who inspire an obsessive and dedicated following. This is especially apparent on their new album Hello Sadness, their darkest album to date. While early Los Campesinos live performances have relied on the energy of their fizzy debut album Hold On Now Youngster, one wonders how they might translate their slower, achingly sad break up anthems.

Opening band Tall Ships seem an unlikely choice; where Los Campesinos are unapologetically emotional and lyrical, Tall Ships are more about the intricacies of their music. Their particular brand of loop pedal based math pop is energetic and engaging, and it is endlessly entertaining to watch the individual cogs of their music interact and create something pretty magical. Occasionally they border on the overly complex, and play 5 chords where one would do. But overall they are a fantastic live band, and are met with an enthusiastic response from the assembled crowd of sad sacks here to see their favourite band.

Los Campesinos take to the stage and launch into the poppiest and most immediate song on their new album, ‘By Your Hands’. The crowd is delighted, and throughout the set respond as favorably to the new songs as the old favourites. Hello Sadness and their third album, the unforgiving and intense Romance is Boring, dominate the set. Frontman Gareth Campesinos is an engaging crowd pleaser, and between songs rouses the crowd to demand soap in the men’s toilets and laments the fact that a majority of their crew are Arsenal fans.

Hello Sadness highlights ‘Life is a Long Time’, ‘To Tundra’ and ‘Baby I Got the Death Rattle’ provide unlikely highlights despite being brand new, and old fan favourites such as ‘Miserabelia’ and ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’ keep the die hard aficionados of their old material happy. The band return for a brief encore of two old tracks, finishing, as they always do, with the first album highlight ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, in which Gareth lunges into the crowd and causes absolute pandemonium.

One look at the assembled crowd upstairs at the O2 Academy says it all really; Los Campesinos are an important band to a lot of people. Throughout the evening Gareth’s confrontational and devastating lyrics are shouted back at him with passion, because they mean something real and tangible to each individual fan. It is an amazing thing to watch, and something that separates the band from an awful lot of mid-noughties guitar music and current Pitchfork-approved indie. An amazing performance.