Genius psychedelic beatnik folk-master ditches picnics in the park for an electrifying live show at KOKO. Radical!
If at this exact moment it was 1966, Devendra Banhart would be about to start a riot – a cultural one at least, if not a Kaiser-approved punch-up.
On May 17 1966 in Manchester, Bob Dylan got a band, plugged in an electric guitar and inadvertently invented indie rock in the UK, with his jangly sound and brilliantly surrealist lyrics. His audience of chin-scratching folkies hated it and one even declared Bob “Judas!”. It seems tonight that acid-folk kingpin Devendra Banhart is after some of that Judas action himself.
Banhart’s last two records ‘Niño Rojo’ and ‘Rejoicing In The Hands’ were filled with delicate psychedelic moments that seemed as light as a breeze. Tonight, though, is more of a gale. Kicking off with little hint of what’s to come, Banhart assumes the folk position: sat down, surrounded by a band who all sport facial growths to rival their leader’s.
However, on passionately pleading opening song ‘Pensando Enti’, there’s suddenly a sense that this pop pixie has some bite, and new track ‘Heard Somebody Say’ from forthcoming album ‘Cripple Crow’ quickly confirms it, finding the singer raging – albeit dreamily – against war. Topical? Angry? Then, simply, diminutive Devendra stands up. Strapping on a suitably vintage-looking electric guitar and suddenly looms large. In ’66 this alone would have Magic Numbers lookalikes screaming for the hills. In 2005, it drives Banhart’s audience wild.
New songs like ‘I Feel Just Like A Child’ help their composer morph into a hip-shaking, strutting frontman (think Mick Jagger in a beard). Such is the energy created by his transformation that even when he invites a random audience member onstage to play a song, the punter’s inappropriate urchin indie efforts are greeted with warm applause.
Back onstage to close proceedings, Banhart proves he’s not sacrificed his gentle side of old as acoustic favourites ‘Little Yellow Spider’ and ‘At The Hop’ deftly dampen every eye in the house. Instead, what this tiny Texan has done is gained a rock’n’roll groove that can only take him to new, stranger places. Sure, the beards and kaftans all look a little 1972, but as this evening’s show crashes through the curfew, the enthralled crowd don’t seem to care about getting home. Whether he’s strutting his stuff or sat on a rug, Banhart is a vital songwriter for the future. Devendra rocks – who’d have guessed?