Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Sight To Behold

Better late than never, here's my Devendra Banhart live review!

Devendra Banhart
Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

Tonight is all about Devendra and his sexy young folk chums. With his salt and pepper goatee and careworn hat, Sir Richard Bishop takes on the role of their cranky uncle. Taking a break from opium scented art-rockers Sun City Girls, Bishop has established himself as one of the leading experimental acoustic guitar players. But where Jack Rose is graceful and meditative, Bishop is spiky and mischievous. He has a light touch on the folk and blues numbers, but is unafraid to throw in Beefheartian dissonance, or cut loose on Indian and Arabic flavoured improvisations. Neither is Bishop an acoustic purist: he’ll crank up the volume and presence to add a woody percussive crunch to his more furious extrapolations, or conjure up dense layers of delay. Tonight, Uncle Rich showed the kids how to rock.

Espers
’ chamber folk has all the right elements - hushed vocals, crystalline guitar, a distant rumble of percussion, creeping organ – but it doesn’t quite convince. It’s all very pretty, but c’mon, captivate me! This is music so elegantly wrought it allows no room for blue notes or flinty edges. Much has been made of the olde worlde mysteriousness of their music, but like a PG cut of The Wickerman, there are only vague hints of dread here. There’s a much needed crescendo at the end, but it’s just not heavy enough. The cellist gamely grapples with her instrument, choking mangled notes from the neck, but the rest of the band seem reluctant to push the dial into the red. As Greg Weeks studiously adjusts the volume on his Farfisa I’m silently urging him to just turn it right up and fry us with waves of trebly minor chord fuzz. I want to see the percussionist batter his cymbals and the drummer pound his kit all the way to Stonehenge, but all we get is a mildly adventurous stroll off the beaten track.

So to our fuzzy faced prince. Devendra takes to the stage in a tartan waistcoat and tight flares, accompanied by his even hippier looking bandmates. Dubbed the Hairy Fairy Band, only the fresh faced drummer lacks a beard, although he straps on a green felt fake, which works itself loose as he plays. Nice try. The band stays in the background for the opening tunes, which include a gorgeous Spanish song from the new album, Cripple Crow. Come ‘This Beard Is Soibhann’, however, they’re stomping away like a hippy show band. Banhart clearly isn’t interested in being a serene, seated folkie tonight – he wants to take us to boogieville. He shuffles his feet, claps his hands, even does the chicken dance. Sho’ nuff, the boy’s got rhythm. It’s all very entertaining, but after a while nagging doubts creep in. New songs like ‘I Feel Just Like A Child’ are irresistible, but I could have done with more of Devendra on his own. It’s nice that Devendra lets his bandmates and a local singer-songwriter take centre stage, but when guitarist Noah Georgeson steps forward to do a cover of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ I was checking my watch. I’m sure the cover was meant sincerely, but Georgeson’s hammy baritone – as ripe as brie on a sun bed - has an air of smugness to it. Happilly, towards the end the Hairy Fairy band put their boogie shoes away and provide unobtrusive accompaniment for two of Banhart’s finest songs. ‘Will Is My Friend’ might be stripped of its melancholy barroom piano tonight, but Banhart brings that sense of wonder to it nonetheless. ‘A Sight To Behold’ might not convey the same apocalyptic dread as on record, but it’s the one moment where Banhart truly unsettles the audience. Then there’s a scrumptious ‘At The Hop’, its lyrics amended to acknowledge the minor indie stooshie the song caused after being used in a – shock horror – cheese advert. “Won’t sell out again,” he coos, tongue half in cheek. Devendra is clearly preparing for stardom with his groovy new sound, but let’s hope he doesn’t forget what made him special in the first place.

3 comments:

Sean said...

good review, stew.

Stewart said...

Thanks dude. I'm quite pleased I got "stooshie" in there.

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