Devendra Banhart at the Barbican
Having toned down his freak-folk eccentricities for recent album Mala, Devendra Banhart makes it clear from the opening of his set that he is here to show off his music, not his dance moves. The long-limbed 32-year-old, dressed in Winklepickers, jeans, t-shirt and a rakish hat, launches straight into his set with confident gusto, although the first three songs are let down by his mic being tuned too low. After some literal sound advice from the audience though, by the fourth song, a smooth and summery rendition of Baby, things are right on track.
Backed up by a consummate band of four, including tonight’s support act and star in his own right, Rodrigo Amarante, Banhart moves through his back catalogue while cherry-picking highlights from his new record, the first to be released on the Nonesuch label. Album track Daniel is a slow, dreamy number invoking memories of queuing to see Suede, and indeed much of the opening hour continues in this sleepy psychedelic haze, drifting from one song into the next with Banhart’s characteristic jerky arm punctuating the rhythm. He is an enchanting performer to watch, slipping from high camp into raw masculinity with the change of a beat. Despite the initial emphasis on slower numbers, there are rockier moments when Banhart’s many influences, from Suede to the oil-slick drawl of Julian Casablancas come to the fore.
Although there’s an emphasis on his more serious side, his love for comedic lyrics and camp cabaret performance also shows, particularly during his rendition of Little Boys from his album Cripple Crow. The style of the set changes somewhat abruptly when Banhart starts gyrating around the stage like a drunken wedding crooner. This proves to be a fascinating change that brings lyrical gems like Your Fine Petting Zoo (a track from Mala on which Banhart duets with Serbian fiancée Anna Kraš) riding in its wake.
The audience remains wholly on Banhart’s side throughout the show, and when the rest of the band leave the stage, a strange and wonderful Little Yellow Spider leaves a lo-fi Banhart the deserved centre of attention. Returning after rapt applause for an energetic encore of Carmensita, the band get the audience on their feet, proving that despite the initial slow pace, Banhart is more than capable of covering all the bases.
Photo: Burak Cingi
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Watch the video for Carmensita here: