All words: Landon Randolph
All photos: Clarissa Villondo
Thursday night at the 9:30 Club, Los Campesinos played a set with a band called Sun Club; I don’t really know how to write about it now, which is a really bizarre thing to admit at the beginning of an article, but bear with me. I felt something, and I’m not really sure what it was, but it seemed important. I saw a ghost, maybe my own.
I moved back to D.C. a few months ago. I grew up here and have been going to shows at 9:30 since I was about 13 years old. I went as often as I could. There was nothing quite like that moment, when you’re standing at the very front of the crowd when the lights get dim and a huge cheer goes up for the band as they walk out—it made me feel so adult, standing there, close enough to steal the set list. I moved out of D.C. when I was 18 and hadn’t been back to a show at 9:30 in several years. As I ordered a beer and settled in to wait for the first band, I realized that although I’m in my mid-twenties now, this was the first show that I’ve been to at this venue where I’ve been allowed to drink.
In many ways, the experience at the 9:30 club hasn’t changed much. It still thrills me a bit, staring at the stage, empty of performers, full of instruments and a sense of possibility, but now I’m up in the gallery with the parents who didn’t want their kids to miss out on this important life experience—their first rock concert—but were scared of them being roofied. And I’m now old enough to realize that you can’t hear any of a song’s nuance when you stand at the lip of the stage worshipping at the lead singer’s feet, but it feels seriously weird standing next to the 50 year old woman shopping for designer handbags on her iPhone. I lean on the railing, feeling awkward, and I remember the empty pay phone booths I passed on the way from the Metro, which used to be covered in gang graffiti but now are coated in a layer of band stickers made by professional graphic designers.
Sun Club takes the stage. They are exactly the people I wanted to be in high school. They start to play and their hair, which is the exact length that makes your mom start to sigh and roll her eyes, begins to flip back and forth as they bob their heads to an insistent, angsty beat. They play like they’re trying to prove something to you.
I think the lead singer began the night wearing all of his clothes, but midway through the set, I’m pretty sure he’s wearing only one shoe. I look back during the next song, and he’s lost the other one. Towards the end of the set, he removes his sweater—he’s now standing there, bare from the waist up in just his socks and his skinny jeans, and I start to wonder if he’s going to end the evening crouched onstage, singing into the microphone, naked as his screams. They close out their set with a surfer-dude jeremiad of a song that makes me remember all of my ex-girlfriends. As it ends, I overhear a woman near me tell her neighbor that two members of the band are her sons.
In between sets, I get another beer and spend my time pinpointing spots on the floor from the gallery. There’s where I stood for my first ever concert, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. That’s where I was punched in the mouth in the mosh pit at the Coheed and Cambria show, and over there was where I crowd surfed for the first time at the same show. That patch of floor is where my little brother at his first ever concert flipped that drunken slamdancing douchebag over his back like a tiny linebacker, making me so proud I could burst. As Sun Club packs up their drum kit for an all night road trip to Boston, I reminisce about every grimy tile on that dingy beer-soaked floor.
The lights dim again and the main act, Los Campesinos, come out. Everyone cheers and they begin. I notice immediately that they’ve turned the bass way up between sets—even up on the second floor, I now feel it in my sternum, and I remember how as a kid I used to get the runs after a concert because I stood too close to the subwoofers. The crowd starts to get into the song, nodding their heads. A few near the front pump their fists at the dramatic points. Los Campesinos have clearly been here before—they know how to work a crowd, leading them in clapping to the beat, and playing with a practiced ease. The lead singer is charismatic, energetic, singing with a passion, but he doesn’t seem like he’s likely to tear out his vocal chords in a frustrated act of feeling, the way the previous singer did.
It doesn’t really matter. The band launches into ‘Romance is Boring,’ and the assembled mass on the floor yells with one voice and begins to headbang with abandon. They all start clapping again, without any obvious cue to do so, and I wonder how they all know when to start. Between songs, they engage the crowd with an experienced charm. They start another song, one I don’t recognize, and from my perch I watch a blonde girl in the front row sing every word, awash in the sea of people, reaching toward the stage like a it’s a life preserver.
I see the whole thing like I’m watching it on TV. It’s a good show, and I can identify the songs that in a previous life would have made me absolutely lose my shit, but now, I don’t. The set is in full swing now, and the singer takes off clothes too—but he’s wearing a t-shirt underneath. He’s doing a desperate running monologue of a song now, all verse with not much chorus, like a manic Rex Harrison locked in a padded room, and I hear him through the door.
Towards the end of their set, they play ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.’ Everyone knows the words, and it seems like the whole room is jumping up and down. One guy silently holds up his lighter rather than his cellphone—an anachronistic oasis of a gesture that seems incredibly out of place, yet fitting at the same time, as the chorus of “we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking/but there is no fucking future” is yelled by everyone else.
They finish their set and do a two-song encore. The older people standing around me begin looking towards the stairs as soon as the set ends, but the people close to the stage don’t move an inch. They are so packed in, they probably couldn’t leave if they wanted to, but that probably didn’t matter to them.