November 7, 2006

Voxtrot wins fans over through awkward—but winsome—live act

Something about seeing Voxtrot makes me wish that they had gone to my high school. They are a band full of Duckies from Pretty in Pink, adorable and gawky and unafraid, though always a little bit apologetic. You might not have heard of Voxtrot, but you probably will. They are a quintet from Austin, Texas who have been touring on the success of two EPs released over the past year. The first was a self-titled jaunt that oscillated between delightfully manic desperation and clichéd depression (albeit expressed with a pleasant eloquence). Voxtrot alternates between catchy and sharp, usually with enough heart to make it matter. They are not glitzy, and they come off as charming but enthusiastic underdogs. With Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives, Voxtrot continued to whip out mix-tape–friendly material, this time with a more careful edge.

Opening band Canasta is from Chicago, which accounted for the laid-back attitude of the crowd. The band’s songs are expansive and sweet, and some seem to melt into one another with a pleasant, charming energy. The song that got the biggest cheer was a twee version of Bowie, something that seems incongruous on paper but was quite successful in practice.

Then came Voxtrot, who played an energetic set in support of their newest venture, a single (as the lead singer Ramesh Srivastava quipped, “Who needs a full EP anyway?”), titled My Biggest Fan. The band was in full, awkward glory, spastic and charming. Though the virtually unmarked Empty Bottle was half full of aging folk reluctant to dance, Voxtrot put on a peppy set and credited Chicago as “one of our favorite cities.” They were clearly tired, having just played a spew of dates on the West Coast. But Voxtrot is one of those bands where each member sings along, even when they don’t have to at all. It was originally conceived as an outlet for Srivastava’s songs, but the band has a pleasant onstage dynamic that makes ample justification for the group as a whole.

Voxtrot played a number of new songs in their set. Where their first EPs were filled with a frantic energy, their newer songs are carefully composed and work in a more synthetic way, using the band to their tightest ability. Where the first EP was nervous and expansive, the newer songs are directed in their angst. The songs are melodic and catchy and seem to reach for something even larger. Voxtrot will continue recording their debut full-length this winter, and something pleasantly catchy with a dark, accurate edge will probably surface.

Voxtrot’s songs sound like they were written by the awkward boys in your high school—and their stage demeanor proves it. Srivastava moves jaggedly, hands jutting out spastically during the songs. Except for him, the band members all avoid eye contact with the audience, seemingly afraid of adoration. Surely, as Voxtrot matures, they will learn to connect with their audience in performances as well as through their recordings. Their songs often focus on the transition from youth to adulthood (“These days I am a man/ I’m not a boy”), but the band members themselves are still in an awkward stage of growth.

Though the band members are certainly proud to have gotten to a point in their development where they can select which songs to play instead of playing all of them (and they should be), the set was short enough that the audience was still asking for more. However, at the end of the night, the Empty Bottle was mostly full—not a bad turnout for a Sunday night. Afterward, the band hopped offstage into a mulling crowd of fans—maybe not their biggest fans yet, but certainly something close.