Review: Los Campesinos!/Titus Andronicus, The Gargoyle, February 5

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So imagine the scenario: You're sitting around a Lawrence, Kansas coffee shop, blissfully unaware that you're due to play across Missouri on KDHX that very moment. Such was Titus Andronicus' dilemma earlier Wednesday afternoon.

It's to Titus Andronicus' credit that they not only made it to KDHX (eventually) and the Gargoyle within a reasonable time, but they apologized profusely onstage and attempted to make up for it with a ripping cover of the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird." Somewhere, the Cramps' sadly-departed frontman Lux Interior (who made "Surfin' Bird" a cornerstone of their catalog) is smiling.

The rest of their set wasn't bad either: Titus Andronicus live is a sloppy but riveting spectacle in a manner rarely seen since the glory days of Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control. This New Jersey band take what are essentially conventional rock and blues structures, trashes and deconstructs them, and places Patrick Stickles' deranged screaming (which, live at least, resembled a hoarse cross between David Yow and Jon Spencer).

Audibly losing his voice after a few songs, one wonders how Stickles manages an entire tour of such antics. They seemed genuinely glad to be in St. Louis, which they called "familiar territory," having played the Gargoyle last year with No Age. Come back soon, folks.

To whomever programmed the between-set music: compliments on following Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" with the Aislers Set's crash-poppy "Langour In The Balcony" (from their sadly-overlooked How I Learned To Write Backwards CD).  It was a unexpected but effective segue.

Where Titus Andronicus was messy, Los Campesinos! was enigmatic: seven or so young Cardiffian ex-students, performing their dancy take on '90s indie-rock a la Huggy Bear, Delgados and early Pavement. (At the Gargoyle, they even began a song with a snippet of Pavement's "Box Elder.") At the middle of their swirling string/guitar/xylophone arrangements stands lead singer Gareth Campesinos!. Not moving very far from his stand-up xylophone/cymbal setup, he spends much of the set singing about various embarrassing and awkward moments in a manner so detailed and self-effacing that you can imagine him giving a lecture or PowerPoint presentation:

"Here you can see the drunken argument we had at the party...and here is when we broke up a few weeks later."

Occasionally the weight of the words seems to hit him, and he indulges in a moment of bashing his xylophone or turning around and playing the drummer's cymbals. Even when the live mix garbled the words, Gareth was never less than convincing and charismatic.

Their singles suggested a fine live band, and their set did not disappoint. They played all the hits -- "The International Tweexcore Underground," "You! Me! Dancing!" and "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" -- as well as various selections from their rapidly expanding catalog. Everyone gave a spirited, involved performance; they could have played for another couple of hours and this Wednesday-night crowd would have stayed for the whole set.
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