“…but let’s talk about you for a minute,” Gareth Campesinos! offers on the first track of their third1 album. Ostensibly, he’s signaling a change of pace from the band’s previous output, the slow musical build to that point far less manic than fans had come to expect.
But if you listen carefully, you can hear Gareth’s tongue planted firmly in his cheek.
Five years ago tomorrow, I went to a Los Campesinos! show at the Showbox, somewhat alone. I say somewhat because, when I’d bought the ticket, I was planning on flying solo, but the day of the show, a friend of a friend posted on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted to go with her. I replied that I was already going, but we should grab a drink while we were there.
And thus, a beautiful friendship was born.
The strange thing I’ve noticed about Los Campesinos! is that their albums tend to sync up with wherever my life is at the time I discover them, far more so than any other band. Hold On Now Youngster, with all its whirlwind energy and pining over failed attempts at romance, came to me at a time when I was trying to distract myself from just that. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed came to my attention near the end of a 9,500-mile road trip about my father’s murder. Romance is Boring released at the dawn of the Actively Seeking Mischief Project. Hello Sadness, mere weeks after a devastating breakup. And the ironically titled No Blues, in late 2013, when both they and I pretended everything had gotten better.
Romance is Boring was the transition point, for both them and me. For them: The moment when they graduated from excessive glockenspiel to a more mature sound. For me: The dawn of the summer when it looked like my life was finally coming together. So much for that idea.
I met up with Sangster at the show, where we found a couple other friends. The Showbox was as empty as I’ve ever seen it for a show, with one of the two bar areas closed entirely. I considered it a loss for anyone who wasn’t there.
The show was electric, the band bursting with the kind of energy that can only be mustered by kids in their early-20s, halfway around the world from home. But due to the all-ages curfew, it ended early, and so Sangster, her friend Craig, and I decided to grab another drink at the nearby Nite Lite.
A drink later, and we left the bar, only to run into the band and their entourage walking by. Craig requested a photo with the bassist he had a crush on, and, making small talk while watching Craig attempt to grope him, we asked where they were going.
“That bar with the clown,” someone answered, shrugging and pointing up the street.
“Ah, Shorty’s,” I replied. “Great place. You’ll have a good time.”
When we missed our bus up the Hill, I somehow convinced my compatriots we should follow the band to Shorty’s. Once there, we mustered the courage to offer to buy them drinks. And somehow, we wound up chatting with them until the lights came on.
We went our separate ways. My friends and I to the Hurricane, and then to Craig’s place, where Sangster and I crashed on his couch until the morning arrived, far too early. That night, she and I made plans to go to Sasquatch together at the end of the month—she had a ticket, but no ride, while I had a car but no ticket. We’ve been friends ever since.
“In Media Res” shifts in tone several times, sonic dissonance throughout, and it’s only now, five years later, that I’m really reading the lyrics and making sense of it all. Of course it resonated for me. Of course it did.
But forever, the two bits that stick out most will be the beginning and end. That first line, suggesting that after two albums of navelgazing, the band would be singing about other people for a change. And the end, revealing that was merely a feint.
“If you were given the option/Of dying painlessly in peace at 45/With a lover at your side/After a full and happy life/Is this something that would interest you?/Would this interest you at all?” Gareth asks at the song’s close. Maybe he’s asking someone else, but he’s not talking about them at all.