CMJ: Beggars Had a Party at Fontana’s


Voxtrot at Fontana’s; photo by Rebecca Smeyne

Jack Peñate and Voxtrot
CMJ Day 1: October 16

by Michael D. Ayers

Maybe there were significant delays at LaGuardia or JFK. Whatever the reason for hardly anyone showing up to Beggar’s Group (4AD, XL, Matador) Party at Fontana’s yesterday was fine by me, as the Chinatown bar is spacious enough if you like boozing, but for bands, it can get a bit cramped in the basement.

One of their recent signings, Jack Peñate, who I’ve been told is blowing up in the U.K. right as I type, played the first of two performances. I’d heard one cut of his about two hours before, so while I’m no Peñate expert, he did remind me of a few things. First, he looks much like how I picture Sean Astin looking in those post-Rudy, pre-Lord of the Rings years. He rolls his checkered shirt up in a rockabilly fashion, and that’s fine, as he’s not skinny, so he can pull it off. Second, he often plays upbeat, bratty-punk pop songs in the vein of the Libertines and maybe the Arctic Monkeys. But it’s not nearly as over the top as the aforementioned, and his voice is more soulful (he likes to say “oh” a lot), and although his short set was rather upbeat, there was a lot of subtle ska sounds going on. So, I can see why the brits are currently loving him. He’s heart-throb-esque, and does that bouncy, guitar pop thing as good as the other guys who do the bouncy guitar-pop thing do.

Voxtrot played a short, five-song set afterwards. For some reason, Voxtrot is participating in official CMJ stuff, and this was a little warm up set to their Brooklyn Vegan sponsored showcase later in the evening. I get why older acts use CMJ and SXSW to “reintroduce” themselves to the industry folks that might have forgotten them, but Voxtrot is neither up-and-coming, nor forgotten. Whether they’ve peaked in terms of popularity, that I’m not sure of. I do know they seem to play nearly every month in this city, with two shows earlier this week at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Over the summer, which was like a few weeks ago, they did a show at Webster Hall, which holds over a thousand people. Fontana’s basement holds about forty-five comfortably, or yesterday, around thirty. Aside from the bassist who sings/mouths along to the lead singer’s words, Voxtrot was pleasantly tolerable for their short set.

Voxtrot at Fontana’s, photo by Rebecca Smeyne

They’ve suffered a bit of a “dude you gotta hear these guys” syndrome, which makes me not want to hear them at all, when everyone is saying that same line, but they’ve since recovered from their 2006 hype wave. Now that people are caring about bands called Black Kids and Vampire Weekend, Voxtrot has nothing to lose, and thus seemed happy to play their happy pop songs, even if it was for a tiny audience- a fraction of what they’re used to at most shows.

So was the Beggars kick-off party. Not annoyingly overcrowded and acts that sufficiently set the bar higher than normal for a CMJ week. Oh, and Jack Peñate likes to bug his eyes out in an attempt to emphasize lyrical points he’s trying to make. He gets them pretty big, and that’s fun to try and keep tabs on.