Devendra Banhart may have cut his luscious locks but he is still the same, folky, psychedelic, Jim Morrison channelling, animal loving hippy he ever was.
One member of a modern incarnation of the Laurel Canyon set, which today includes Vashti Bunyan, Vetiver and Joanna Newsom to name but a few, Banhart’s distinguishable hirsute 1970’s throwback look was the only thing lacking at a jam-packed Koko on Sunday night. Everything else: stage presence, zest, vigor, banter, charm and creative talent was flowing in bucket loads.
I’ve been to Koko numerous times, normally left teetering on tippee-toes on the edge of a staircase in an attempt to catch the occasional glimpse of the musicians while hoping not to plummet to my death – Sunday was no exception. Though this usually proves somewhat detrimental to enjoying an evening, and the sound too can often be hit and miss, Devendra Banhart and band, The Grogs, somehow overcame any sound issues the venue often has, overpowering us with one of the five senses and the only one we needed that night. The huge wall of sound he and his five-piece built up and ripped down throughout the night was unlike anything I’ve heard executed with such precision by a band who haven’t been transported from 1969…or I guess for a moment it felt like we were transported back there.
Opening and closing with jamming singalong numbers, Banhart and band nicely bookended a miniature solo set from the main man which included favourites “Little Yellow Spider” and achingly beautiful “The Body Breaks” which exemplified his abilities as a vocalist and songwriter, while “Bad Girl” brought to mind Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” with its slide guitar and hazy, sepia tones.
A set that contains such an amalgamation of sounds, styles and influences may be deemed a bit too much of a mixed bag, but for Banhart his ability to so expertly emulate any number of musical genres is intimidating to say the least. But it’s the honesty and energy behind his performance that makes you believe in these musicians. How he can move from the simple profoundity of “It’s a Sight to Behold” lyrics “It’s like finding home/In an old folk song/That you’ve never ever heard/Still you know every word/And for sure you can sing along” to Doors-esque “Seahorse” is, to quote the man himself, a sight (or sound) to behold for certain.
Daft banter and outrageously obscure covers of Taylor Dayne’s “Tell it to My Heart” and Whitney Houston’s “Dance with Somebody” aside, not to mention the impromtu pulling up on stage of random audience member who serenaded us on Devendra’s guitar with his apparently as yet unplayed song “My Tortoise”, marked Banhart as the eccentric we all know him as.
Closing with “I Feel Like a Child” certainly captured the essense of the evening which for all its musical greatness was made all the better by a bunch of guys who were just having a good time – you didn’t need to catch a glimpse of them to see this enjoyment…it was all mirrored on the faces of the crowd standing next to you.