If the California-based 24-year-old Devendra Banhart achieved some fame as leader of a supposed new folk scene last year, it was largely on the strength of his compelling, solo live performances. But tonight, with an album of great material, Cripple Crow, and a backing band behind him, he somehow manages to be rather less engaging.
As the band shuffle on stage and ease themselves into a loose groove for the opener "Quedate Luna", it sounds like a rehearsal. New single "Heard Somebody Say" - a Lennon-esque anti-war number - comes next, but this guitar version has none of the sweeping elegance of the piano-driven one on record.
It soon becomes apparent that we are not going to be getting the full Banhart effect tonight. Accompanied only by three guitarists and a drummer, who all look like they, too, come from the 1960s (Banhart himself sports a long black mane and a substantial beard), his attitude is one of shambolic bonhomie. At one point, he even gets someone up from the audience to play one of their own songs. This happy-go-lucky, hippie-ish attitude is part of Banhart's charm, of course: he wants us to feel as though we're having a party and he just happens to be providing the music. But this is not an easy feat to pull off in a big theatre like the Astoria, and the result is a sense that the band are having more fun than the audience.
Still, Banhart has written some fantastic songs, and some of them work just fine in this setting. "Hey Mama Wolf" and new single "At the Hop" cast a quiet spell, though a slowed-down version of "Lazy Butterfly" is less successful, as the band begin to sound too much like The Doors.
The highlights come when they move away from strictly folk territory into the rousing stomps of "Long Haired Child" and "I Feel just like a Child", and the bluesy encore, "Little Boys". Unencumbered by his acoustic guitar, Banhart gets up and struts like a rocker. It's not quite Dylan going electric, but it is electrifying - and the best use of the casual jamming outfit he has put together. But if he wants to do full justice to Cripple Crow on stage, he needs a bigger band, and a bit more sense of purpose.Reuse content