(Prince Bandroom, July 29)
Before hitting Splendour in the Grass, Devendra Banhart and his four-piece band spent a night at the jam-packed Prince Bandroom last Friday. Clad in a battered leather jacket and skinny jeans, Banhart looked more like a guitar-rockin’, indie superstar rather than the folky, animal-loving hippy he was better known to be. Fortunately, his incomparable quirk and buckets of creative talent was still present that night. And his beard too, of course.
To kick off the evening, Banhart wooed the audience with his quavering croons on the doo-wop stomp ‘Shabop Shalom, Jane’. Superbly supported by his remarkably precise band, his captivating voice was not to be reckoned with as he plunged into crowd favourites ‘Angelika’ and ‘Baby’. Banhart’s affectionate charm and light-hearted banter was further welcomed with yelps and trills.
At one point in the night, the band had left to rest, leaving Banhart alone on stage to perform a miniature solo set. Armed with just his guitar, the stage lights dimmed as the leading man began with the achingly beautiful ‘The Body Breaks’. Not a sound escaped the masses and only after he sang his last line, the crowd finally broke into rapturous cheers. Followed by the incredibly enduring ‘At the Hop’, the hazy sways of ‘Bad Girl’ and the Jeff Buckley-chanelling ‘A Sight to Behold’, Banhart’s exquisite aura had led someone to whisper, ‘This is so beautiful…I feel like I’m going to cry.’
‘Pay attention to the lyrics,’ Banhart said before he dived into outrageously obscure covers from exotic origins with one song that ran ‘I am a good sport / I am a sportsman’. However, it was none other than epic rocker ‘Seahorse’ that proved Banhart as a man with an undeniable stage presence. Shifting effortlessly from the serenading sounds of being ‘high, happy and free’ to the frantic rush of churning guitar strums, Banhart’s zest and dynamism was utterly infectious.
Whilst belting out ‘Long Haired Child’, Banhart’s sweeping arms started gesturing for a dance, as his voice shivered, ‘When my baby slips out my mama’s womb / We’re gonna enter a new life / Enter a new life, that’s for sure’. But it was none other than Spanish number ‘Carmencita’ that sent the band onstage and the crowd wild, gleefully chanting along ‘Lalalala…’
As the end of the night approached, Banhart began apologizing, ‘Sorry for not playing any new songs…’, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. With his clever intermesh of soothing folk melodies and jamming guitar rock tunes, his musical greatness was present throughout the night nevertheless.
Banhart had ditched his leather jacket and guitar for the encore, and was now making full use of his liberated limbs. He basked in the freedom of his unconstrained body – his arms outstretched, his hips jerked, his lean figure squiggled. Closing off with ‘I Feel Like A Child’, Banhart’s sudden burst of peculiar bodily movements captured the essence of his demeanour and the night perfectly – a loveable sense of eccentricism, and full of unstoppable vigour.