Live review: Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus rock UW-Madison campus

Tom Pilcher

Let’s free associate for a minute: Think of whatever comes to mind when I write “German beer hall.” Beer steins, old wrought-iron chandeliers, a dimly lit yet inviting room, wooden tables, and a rowdy group of customers?
Strangely enough, all of these words accurately describe UW-Madison’s Der Rathskeller, the venue where Wales septet Los Campesinos! and New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus played last Friday night to a packed, amazingly energetic crowd.
Allow me to set a few things straight about the two group’s names, both of which routinely induce confusion: Los Campesinos!, Spanish for “The Farmers,” formed three years ago at Cardiff University in Wales, and they do not play Spanish music. Secondly, Titus Andronicus is the name of Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, not the name of some futuristic robot as many think at first.
Titus Andronicus played first at 9:30 p.m., and by then the crowd was already densely packed and excited about the show. The group consists of five guys from New Jersey who have clearly studied the roots of punk and early rock but also their share of philosophy and literature.
Their rough brand of rock sounds as if it was dragged through the mud outside an old library littered with existential literature by Albert Camus and Nietzsche. Multiple songs reference Camus, and one ends with a quote from his famous novel “The Stranger.” Though rough, their music is not faux-macho like the junk that populates modern rock radio.
Lead singer Patrick Stickles, who also plays guitar, keyboard and the occasional harmonica, led the group into the first song, and the bottled-up energy in the room exploded. My view of the stage was full of eager fists pumping along with the music.
With their disheveled punk-garage rock, Titus Andronicus set the stage high for any opening band, filling the club with crowd surfing and numerous group sing-alongs. The intriguing thing about their music is how many seemingly disparate elements it combines.
Stickles’ lyrics are sometimes more akin to emo than to punk, but his signature howl breaks through the wall of guitars, revealing strangely uplifting melodies; even when the coda to “Titus Andronicus” hits with an ending chant of “Your life is over!” Stickles embraces this mantra and somehow sounds excited.
Along with their self-titled song, the crowd went wild for “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ,” a song that starts slowly but soon enough erupts in a raucous, drum-driven middle and ends with a great “jaunty, Irish-sounding melody” as Stickles referred to it. After a final leap into the dense crowd, which sometimes spilled onto the stage, Stickles and the rest of Titus Andronicus called it a night.
It is easy to dismiss Los Campesinos! at first because of the exclamation point after their name, which is reminiscent of teen heartthrobs Panic! At The Disco, but if any group ever deserved an exclamation point, it is Los Campesinos!
Lead singer Gareth Campesinos! — all seven of them say this is their last name, much like the Ramones did — did not banter much between songs because he was fighting off an asthma attack.
Asthma seemed to have no effect on his performance as he led the rest of the Campesinos through another incredibly energetic set. The amazing thing about both bands is that both are very young, and this youthful energy characterizes their music well. LC! are more poppy than Titus Andronicus, filling their songs with synthesizer, glockenspiel, violin and breathless boy-girl vocals that make fun of everything from year end music lists, in “My Year In Lists,” to Facebook, in “Death to Los Campesinos!”
The highlight of their set was definitely “You! Me! Dancing!” a song where Gareth reveals that he “could never dance a single step” before launching into a glockenspiel-filled chorus that set everyone in motion.
Though it seems like only young people would enjoy their music, this free concert proved this was not the case: One tall, older man in the back sang along with every word, even though at first glance, he looked like he would prefer a Ted Nugent concert.
In short, this free concert at UW-Madison served as a perfect introduction to two very exciting young bands. It makes me hope that the new campus center will have some sort of concert space more suited to bigger events like this, and that Lawrence will be able to draw exciting, young groups like Los Campesinos! and Titus Andronicus in the future.