Los Campesinos, Summer Camp, Grouplove, NME tour

Mike Hughes 02/02/2011

Rating: 4/5

Grouplove, from L.A, have been heavily tipped, blogged and buzzed in the last year. They came on stage to country rock "yee-ha's", made all the more authentic with Union Army uniforms and fin-de-siecle flouncy dress. They were no single trick pony though; after a couple of numbers the sound progressed through to a rawer place. Itchin' On A Photograph saw the sort of ramshackle ramblings typical of The Pogues, while later in the set, programmed drum loops caused confusion about what they were actually trying to be here. I'm going to be brutal: if your bass player can't sing, just don't let him, no matter how much of a showman he might be, especially in such an important support gig. It'll be a mercy in the long run. Apart from that, they were good enough but I'm not sure what will make them stand out. 

Summer Camp on the other, hand were a massive revelation. Others were digging them ages ago, but until tonight I just didn't get it. I realised what was holding me back, that being the one occasion I've seen them before. It was an outdoor acoustic set, good cause, nice people, pleasant enough but just didn't explain the dust they were apparently raising elsewhere. Tonight, the two band members Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey were in their more natural element; Korg fuelled synth pop to the fore, never more so than on Veronica Sawyer. They were electric and in your face and I was won over in a second. They had backdrop slides showing subverted 60's snapshots of American family life, and this was nicely paralleled in their sound; like listening to some dance hall diva of the era wavering and wowing in and out of range on a crap transistor radio. Taken individually the elements could be inexact and messy but they pulled the muddy morass into a thing of beauty. 

I've followed Los Campesinos progress for years now, and observed as successive line-up changes have thrust Gareth ever more into a lead role. It's probably one he would dispute, but tonight he was the one with licence to prance and twirl, sing with his back to the audience and climb onto the barrier. The crowd were young and wild for their heroes, arms waving like seaweed in a storm. How can a song about dying alone (Miserabilia) lead to such an eruption of joyous pogo-ing? Heatrash (Letters From Me To Charlotte) demonstrates their considerable ability when it comes to minute observation of human behaviour. A sense of Somerset Maugham Englishness is also present, I mean who actually writes letters any more anyway? In a pause between songs, Gareth noticed a fan in the front row and helped them out by stowing their bag, coat and, err, training shoes on the front of the stage for safe keeping. Were they bare foot in the mosh? Whatever, this trademark affinity with their fans was repeated later when he made an announcement about new tee shirts on the merch stall. The "nature of a gig such as this" would mean that 25% of the proceeds would go to the venue, so if people would care to wait a day, the same shirts would be on the web site. It's not the first time I've seen him give a stab in the eye to the corporate machine that gets them in front of an audience. I like him for it. The band are still young of course and can convincingly convey the attendant sexual frustrations in Straight in at 101
At the start I was in the posh seats upstairs, but before long I was up and dancing in the aisle. Speaking of which, at some point it was announced that Los Campesinos' parents were in the audience and Harriet's mum and dad were given a quick moment in the spotlight in the balcony opposite me. I spent the next song or two watching them as they witnessed their conservatively dressed, violin playing daughter whip up a heaving, energetic mosh, wondering what they made of it. 
There was some sort of mid-way energy slump but by the time we got to Beautiful / Doomed the roar and hand-jiving was back. That's the paradox of this band; they can make double xylophones feel entirely hard-core. Even in the last throes as the crowd surfers came thick and fast, they were nice crowd surfers, good humoured and considerate, making sure they did no damage, and as one was helped along the front of the stage by security, Gareth gave him a passing pat on the head. 
Song of the night was 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future', for the story telling and for the way they can entwine such disparate threads into one intimate moment. And most of all for line about about not being able to kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue.