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Devendra Banhart at O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire Review

Devendra Banhart @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
It’s just possible that Devendra Banhart was born thirty years too late for his current incarnation. Or perhaps, to put it another way, had Devendra Banhart been born thirty years earlier (give or take a few) he would have stood a solid fighting chance of becoming a fully-fledged glam rock icon, as opposed to the endearing but slightly peculiar curio he’s so often seen as. It could be considered a shame were it not for the fact that he still continues, thirty years out, to plough his own unique and compelling path through the inner and outer reaches of psych, folk and bluesy, groovy rock. This evening’s performance with the latest version of his band – currently named The Grogs, though it’s anyone’s guess how long it’ll remain that way –focuses heavily on material from his most recent two records. Every inch of space is filled with guitar power from his bandmates, each of whom takes the limelight for a song of their own, from a slightly limp turn from the bassist to long-term guitarist Noah’s lovely, lovelorn strum. Yet for all his associates’ charms, tonight was always going to be Devendra’s show. Short of lock and neat of beard – and cutting an almost impossibly skinny figure as he totters across the stage in a curious and charming mix of equine grace and stick-insect clumsiness – he’s still every inch the rock star, brandishing his guitar like a weapon for the triptych forms of ‘Seahorse’ and dancing with appropriately reckless abandon for the encore of ‘I Feel Just Like A Child’. He’s a beguiling star indeed, swinging his hips like Plant and switching from croon to mercurial yelp as the energy begins to swell within the crowd beneath his feet. Both ‘Little Yellow Spider’ and ‘A Sight To Behold’ are rendered in stark and lovely acoustic colours, a welcome glimpse back to the Banhart of old, before his inner rawwk tendencies began to manifest themselves. As a musician, and indeed as a human being, Banhart treads an odd line between utterly sexless and wildly sexual. It’s a peculiar dichotomy but one which lends his performance a tangible tension between the often more testosterone-fuelled musical backing – stoner riffola on his drummer’s song, primal howls during the huge endpoint of ‘Seahorse’ – and his childlike stage presence and lyrical persona – the latter easily swipes the award for one of the sweetest songs about reincarnation ever written. It could so easily be construed as creepy; around time of his album Cripple Crow, several broadsheet journalists wrote with some concern about his MJ-esque devotion to songs about children. Yet try to convince anyone witnessing his live performance that he fits into some sort of eerie perma-kid state and you’ll get a sneer in return. There is a wonderful, cheeky sense of humour well and truly present here, and by the end of the show he swills from his fourth or fifth bottle, thanks the crowd profusely and swaggers off, masculinity buoyant and happily intact. Rory Gibb

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