Devendra Banhart, The Forum, London

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The Independent Culture

Devendra Banhart is famed for his support of lesser-known artists. So let me begin by heaping praise on his support act here: 17-year-old Laura Marling boasts lyrical wisdom beyond her years. The best of her compositions is the ghostly, melancholic "Night Horror", which conjures up a very different London to that familiar from the work of, say, Kate Nash.

Despite all the mystical hokum surrounding its conception, Banhart's latest album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon is the most straightforward rock'*'roll album one could expect of him. It sees Banhart embracing a broader range of styles, from his bluesy sneer on "Seahorse" to the raunchy disco of "Lover".

Banhart looks every inch the Woodstock throwback, bearded, slender and wraith-like. His bandmates have each grown equally impressive facial hair. The first third of the set is very mellow, bordering on the tedious, particularly during the sedate "Freely". The crowd seem unimpressed, and there's too much chatter. "At the Hop", on the other hand, is a fairly straightforward love song from Banhart's 2004 album Niño Rojo and, in this incarnation, smothered in harmonies, it's wonderful.

The Gallagher brothers aren't Banhart's most recognisable influence, but at one point he breaks into an inexpert Oasis medley: "A band," he says, "that I truly love." But he doesn't include his rather lovely cover of "Don't Look Back In Anger".

Things really pick up when he vacates his stool and goes electric. " Heard Somebody Say" is like Harvest-era Neil Young, with its thumping piano chord progressions, flighty harmonies and protest song refrain: " It's simple/ We don't wanna kill". "Seahorse" begins sounding like The Stranglers and ends in a big, bold, West Coast rock riff. It's followed by a pair of tropicalia-induced samba numbers, which bring the energy flooding back.

The guitarist Andy Cabic is also the front man for Vetiver, and he plays one of his band's songs. The keyboard player rolls out his rather droning composition "Bright Wind", and Banhart's right-hand man Noah Georgeson contributes "Find Shelter", a bridge between the samba and rock elements of the set.

When Banhart asks for a volunteer, the hands shoot up. The girl who gets to play her song is suspiciously polished, and her ditty "Winter" is original enough to make the exercise worthwhile – indeed, Banhart says her "impromptu" performance is the best of the tour. Perhaps that's what he tells all the girls.

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