all photos: Joel Mittleman
Farewell tours are a strange thing. They’re Irish wakes for the living – mourning and celebrating an impending, voluntary end. They’re a weird mix of fight and defeatistism. On Wednesday night, Voxtrot frontman Ramesh Srivastava characterized his band’s “Goodbye, Cruel World” tour as a “longwinded funeral,” but his typical self-deprecation betrayed the overall feeling of triumph that hung over the night.
Voxtrot’s autopsy is still ongoing, but the Austin band’s demise is being held up as an example of the blogosphere’s tendency to eat its young. Which is to say, the accolades –buzz, if you will – the band received from its early string of EPs not only raised unreasonable expectations for the band, but also within the band, pushing them towards an unnecessarily adventurous self-titled debut LP that landed with a resounding thud and was subsequently forgotten. Whether this cycle is unique to the internet is debatable – particularly the extent to which a band actually gains exposure beyond a narrow audience – but what is certain is how the quality of those initial EPs remains stellar.
Voxtrot too seemed to recognize this, filling the majority of their set with songs from those EPs rather than 2007 full-length. “They just don’t make it like they used to,” Srivastava quipped at one point. “Raised by Wolves” and “Rise Up in Dirt” showcased the band at its best, producing propulsive yet rhythmically agile power-pop. The latter’s barroom piano showed up again “Your Biggest Fan”, where the build and release of the song’s the evening’s biggest peak.
And nearly every Voxtrot song peaks. In fact, nearly every Voxtrot song has two moments. The first is when the elements of a song – which, from Srivastava’s delivery to the rhythm section’s fluid backbeat, constantly shift with nervous energy – click, coming together to deliver an awesome pop moment. The second moment is a cringe-worthy turn of the phrase from Srivastava, usually stemming from his trying too hard to either cram too many words with in a line or stretch for poetic significance. Sometimes songs are full of the former. Sometimes they’re full of the latter, as on the night’s gaffe-prone “Kids Gloves” (Cheer me up, cheer me up, I’m invisibly stuck all in myself / You sound of vanity whore”) and the self-described “slow jam” “Berlin Without Return” (“When I see you naked, I see more than flesh / Do you see the same thing?”). But there is almost always at least one of each. And the fact that Voxtrot rarely has the former without the latter makes listening to them so frustrating.
Any lyrical warts were put front and center live. Srivastava alternated between guitar and piano, but his voice – which can be coy, twee, or suave – was always elevated high in the mix. On guitar, Srivastava jerked his torso forward and back, shimmying his shoulders with the spunk of a slightly subdued Kevin Barnes. His band was similarly wired, bandying about the stage throughout the performance.
The crowd was also getting in on the action. Fingers snapping over heads. Pantomimed surfing. Noodling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much bad dancing at a traditional rock concert. Whatever the moves, the crowd was certainly enthused, particularly over the older material. A large portion of them roared when Srivastava asked how many were taking in their first Voxtrot show.
“Wow, maybe we shouldn’t break up,” Srivastava commented. While Voxtrot’s members may already have moved onto other projects, its hard to believe this “funeral” will be the last word from the band.
Voxtrot drew from its home base for its opener, Austin’s Yellow Fever. With matching haircuts – near pompadours; shaved sides stenciled with patterns – the duo incorporated elements of surf rock, girl group pop, and psych-pop.
In a way, the duo is reminiscent of skewered, playful Wye Oak. Much like Wye Oak’s Andy Stack, drummer Adam Jones performed double duty, adding keys and percussion to eat song. Meanwhile, Jennifer Moore’s vocals had the deep, throaty quality of Jenn Wasner. Moore used those vocals to more eccentric ends though, incorporating quirks and ticks on several of the band’s songs.
Yellow Fever’s debut LP is out now on Vivian Girls’ Wild World label. Rather than recording a fresh album, the band compiled its prior EPs and singles for the release. One wonders where Voxtrot would be now if they had drawn from that more conservative playbook.
3. “Raised by Wolves”
4. “Kid Gloves”
5. “Your Biggest Fan”
7. “Soft and Warm”
8. “Mother Daughter Sisters and Wives
9. “The Future, Pt. 1”
10. “Rise Up In Dirt”
11. “The Start of Something”
12. “Berlin Without Return”
13. “Wrecking Force”
14. “Missing Pieces”