Plug, Sheffield; Thursday April 12
Acid house covers and falsetto squeals as London prodigy wows the steel city
Considering the derision of his “public school rock’n’roll crew” on brilliant scenester-baiting ‘LDN Is A Victim’, you’d have thought Jack Peñate would have had his fill of sharp-tongued piss-takers. Not so, apparently. “If you want to have a go at me for being from London,” grins the scruffy soul boy moments after striding onstage tonight. “Then go ahead. Better out than in. Give me your worst.”
Suddenly everyone in the room’s a comedian. “Cockney wanker,” comes the first, predictable, salvo from the back. “Soft southern prick!” “Earring-wearing poof.” “I had your mum.” And so on…
The hearty chuckle with which Peñate greets the hecklers suggests he hasn’t taken any of the recent sniping to heart. Tonight, Peñate’s unabashed sense of glee – at being alive, at being here, at playing the tunes he loves – is there for all to see: in the way he flails around with wild head-shaking abandon during a hyperactive ‘Spit At Stars’; in the way he grins throughout ‘Have I Been A Fool’ like a pilled-up Cheshire cat. In fact, it’s there in every single sunshine-soaked pop nugget he and his band proceed to tear through – perhaps fuelled by the gaggle of squealing teenage girls camped out at the front of the stage lapping it up.
Sounding like Jamie T if he’d been brought up on a diet of rockabilly, Jonathan Richman and Prince rather than hip-hop, Peñate’s stock trade is jaunty, bounce-pop and tonight he lays out his wares with pride. ‘Second Minute Or Hour’ sounds like The Kooks with billions more charm and sass, while ‘Torn On The Platform’ can’t decide if it wants to be grit-pop, ska or soul-rock and so tries out all three in the space of a couple of frantic minutes. Unfortunately, that’s about it. At this stage, Peñate hasn’t got any more tunes of this calibre. What he does have, though, is that voice. Make no mistake, this boy is blessed with a truly glorious set of pipes, whether it’s delivering breakneck scatter-gun verses in his distinct London patois on ‘Learning Lines’, or exhuming the spirit of Sam Cooke and breaking into a warm, soulful croon on ‘Cold Thin Line’.
“We’re gonna try out a cover on you,” he announces, before breaking into a half-formed version of classic ’80s disco tune ‘Just Be Good To Me’, a track later spliced to acid-house infamy by Norman Cook’s Beats International in the early-’90s. It’s here that things start to get really interesting. Out of nowhere Peñate drops a truly glorious falsetto and, for a nanosecond, we’re transported to the Haçienda circa-1990. “What did you think?” Peñate smiles afterwards, seeking reassurances about his audacious vocal acrobatics. What do we think? Write a couple more tunes of the calibre of ‘Spit At Stars’ and you’ll be the sound of the summer, you lovable posh tosser, you.