The enigmatic artist took a little time to thaw as he brought latest album Flying Wig to the capital
Entering a new phase of synth-indebted self-reflection with Flying Wig, Devendra Banhart has fully shapeshifted from his former guise as freak-folk purveyor.
Worlds away from the make-up laden, Manson look-alike trippy hippie of yesteryear, Banhart cuts a more modest figure nowadays. Seemingly more comfortable in his own skin, he reveals himself to the London audience with little fanfare, though they were audibly grateful to see him. It’s been a while.
Dev devotees have been swooning beside the Venezuelan-American throughout his two-decade transition. Though, for his first London appearance since 2017 at Grade II-listed Art Deco music venue Troxy, there was palpable intrigue as to what kind of tone he’d set for the evening’s entertainment.
Would it be meditative? Would it be moody? Would there be Madonna covers? Well, he ticked all the above boxes, funnily enough.
Sauntering in with ‘Twin’, the lead single from Cate Le Bon-produced Flying Wig was a brooding introduction, its towering bassline thumping away whilst Devendra gently sang, tentatively finding his range for the high-pitched chorus vocal. Sandwiching in fan-favourites like ‘Für Hildegard von Bingen’ and ‘Golden Girls’ with newer, unfamiliar songs like ‘Sirens’, the squiggly ‘Maps’, and ‘Nun’ kept everyone engaged early doors, missing a trick however by omitting ‘Feeling’ and ‘Fireflies’, two of Flying Wig’s most immersive moments.
Even though the crowd clamoured for his attention, Banhart seemed a tad bashful throughout the first section of the setlist. Explaining his switch to synth-heavy soundscapes on his recent album, the musician has been left battle-scarred by personal loss, and there was a sense he was holding back.
After handing over the spotlight to H. Hawkline – his guitarist from Wales, “where the hills roll like a fine white wine,” according to Devendra – for a cover of his own songs, ‘Milk For Flowers’, Banhart slowly loosened up, engaging with the audience’s requests to perform specific songs of his. I can’t verify if he obliged any of them, as all that could be heard from the balcony were whooping and hollering for ‘Sea Horse’ and ‘Rats’, which he definitely didn’t play.
There was an expected cover version however, from “the queen that’s given us everything”, in Madonna. Former Wand keyboardist Sofia Arreguin took on lead vocals for country-loving 2000 hit ‘Don’t Tell Me’, as Devendra slinked about like the Shodo-inspired brushstrokes on the backdrop behind him.
Spurred on by the audience’s increasing energy, clapping along at any given opportunity, Banhart fully turned up the dial with ‘Fancy Man’ and orchestral disco romp ‘Fig In Leather, even squeezing in an Aaliyah verse into the encore ‘Carmensita’.
Whilst Devendra may no longer be as eccentric these days, the playful performer is still entirely capable of orchestrating a good ol’ time, when he eases himself into it.
Photo credit: Jess Segal