Reviewed on Wednesday April 16
There were many unusual things that greeted us at the Factory Theatre ahead of Devendra Banhart’s performance.
The crowd was a wonderfully weird assortment of hipsters, cowboys and all things in between. I spied several fans clad in faded ponchos and waist-limp hair who seemed for all the world to have only just rolled out of the desert, and a smattering of elderly men in brown leather jackets who apparently bore no relation to each other. I admit my knowledge of Banhart extends little further beyond ‘Little Yellow Spider’ and ‘I Feel Just Like A Child’, so this odd variety of audience members went a long way to building my curiosity. In other words, what I was anticipating was a kind of wacky, affable folk performer.
In the end, though there was certainly still a strong folk influence in his set (which was broken into three parts, with a solo acoustic section in the middle), it was not at all the sound I was expecting. It’s the kind of music you expect to hear as you’re filmed walking away from some great revelation with a long tracking shot. Pleasant, thoughtful, but also something you can easily (repeatedly) zone out from. Like particularly high-quality elevator music.
It was also a conspicuously quiet concert, so much so that the level of audience chatter was roughly equal to the band itself; a steady low murmur that contributed to the surreal sense that the whole night was just the prelude to something much larger. Looking at the crowd I quickly noticed something rather uncommon – many people appeared to be on their own. Sure, there were plenty of couples scattered here and there and groups of friends bopping foot to foot at the front of stage. But the number of solo fans was really quite bizarre.
Banhart himself is not your typical frontman, with his micro-disco dance moves and hands that fidget and flutter like birds tied down by string. He has mastered the art of self-conscious spontaneity, and while that certainly smacks of cynicism he is actually quite a charming and effusive performer. He seems like a nice guy, and I feel bad I didn’t enjoy the night more. The highlight came during his solo set, when he happily took audience requests for songs he didn’t really remember anymore. In all it was a relaxed, if uninspiring performance.