After 11 years, Los Campesinos! are brashly self-aware. The indie band knows its musical potential and limitations while being tongue-in-cheek about their own image and legacy — and fans still love it.
The seven-piece band hail from Cardiff, Wales where it first made a name for itself with its debut album “Hold On Now, Youngster…” in 2008, upending the indie rock genre with a rush of saccharine pop over decidedly dark, angst-ridden lyrics. More than a decade later, the group hasn’t strayed far from that initial sound, partly because it’s an inherent piece of its brand by now, but also because Los Campesinos! knows that’s what its fans want.
Lead singer/glockenspiel player Gareth Campesinos! (all band members go by the surname Campesinos!) said as much during a tour stop in San Francisco on Friday, Feb. 24, where he and the band played to a sold-out crowd at the Great American Music Hall as part of Noise Pop festival, a 12-day long celebration which marks its 25 anniversary this year.
“It can be pretty tedious when bands play new songs, but we have to,” Gareth admitted after playing a few singles from the band’s latest album, “Sick Scenes” (released earlier that day). “I’m reasonably sympathetic of that … (but) it’s all solid gold hits from here on out, I swear. You’ve done your part.”
The crowd was rowdy and boisterous, yelling both encouragement and song requests. Gareth laughed, clearly used to audiences constantly demanding to hear 2000s hits like “My Year in Lists,” “Romance is Boring” and “Straight in at 101” that initially put Los Campesinos! on the indie rock map. With a coy smile, he asked the crowd, “Is us being here not enough for you?”
The band jumped into a performance of “By Your Hand,” a popular single from 2011’s “Hello Sadness,” inciting a halfhearted mosh pit. Throughout the show, fans screamed along to the melodrama of lyrics such as, “Fate’s a cruel mistress, girl, the prettiest in the world / She dresses loosely in a bathrobe with her hair up in curls.”
There were audience members spanning generations, everyone from those reliving their high school years to young teens excited to discover the eclectic indie acts in this year’s Noise Pop lineup (Crying, No Vacation and the Y Axes warmed up the crowd that night). They knew all the words, be it by heart or by muscle memory, and they sang along loudly, dancing within bouts of nostalgia. It was, after all, the first time in more than five years Los Campesinos! has played in the Bay Area.
In that time, the band’s music has organically transitioned from bubblegum twee to a more complex, textured, noise pop-oriented sound.
Gareth, fidgeting with his hair and pounding a tambourine on his chest, screamed Bukowski-esque lines about death, loss and heartbreak with a fervor typically reserved for hard rockers. All the while, the band filled the venue with cheery xylophone and synth, frenzied riffs from guitarists Neil and Tom, delicate female harmonizing from keyboardist Kim and exuberant choruses. It shouldn’t make sense, but it made complete sense.
To the delight of the crowd, Los Campesinos! played an encore with its single biggest hit, 2007’s “You! Me! Dancing!” The song capitalizes on what the band does best, taking an entire minute and a half to build up a chaotic backdrop of layered guitar, bass and percussion before spilling into a joyous, poppy celebration of… ignorance? The futility of youth? Philosophical argument?
“And we’re just like how Rousseau depicts man in the state of nature,” Gareth contemplates over repeated chants of the song’s chorus, “we’re undeveloped, we’re ignorant, we’re stupid, but we’re happy.”
Alejandra Salazar is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com
Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival: Concerts continue through Feb. 27 at various venues. For details: http://noisepop.com/2017