Nick Morgan and crew
Review by Dave Broom
REVIEW - JOSEPHINE FOSTER/ESPERS/DEVENDRA BANHART
Concorde 2, Brighton UK, 9th August 2005 by
that sound coming from? That high keening sound?
The one that’s making me shiver. Her? Are
her lips moving? God it’s hot. Not perhaps
the best night to be at a sold-out gig inside a
club whose idea of air conditioning is to open a
side door to let more humid air in. But hey, it’s
folk music, right? This’ll be back to the
days of the floor-sitting, head-nodding, funny cigarette
smoking days of the 70s. Not like we’ll be
dancing! As I said this is folk.
I’ve even grown my beard a little longer to
generate extra stroking potential ... and I’ve
got sandals on. The Hawaiian shirt is, in retrospect
a sartorial error.
top billing is Devendra Banhart, the new leader
of this loosely- affiliated movement that’s
seen folk raising its profile -- as it does every
few years. The music is lo-fi, quiet, floorboard-creakingly
intimate. He’s brought along two support acts
and that’s the sound is coming from the first
of them, Josephine
It’s a wail, a melancholy cry .. and then
the words come, in an mannered accent which seems
like ancient English. You know these songs but have
never heard them before. It is music so ancient
that it seems part of you. If she was alive living
in the 17th century she’d have been tied to
a stake the moment she started to sing.
The guitar playing is rudimentary. She plays as
if she’s just learned the first chords. Her
strange narratives float and settle over the crowd.
Conversation stops. This is folk, but not folk.
This is new folk, underground folk, acid folk, call
it what you want. It’s the sound of bands
recording in the woods, tapping into the old stories
because they’ve realised that they are the
bloodiest, strangest songs of all.
She sings so quietly yet has silenced this boisterous,
hot, crowd. No-one is sitting down. Instead at the
end of every song people look at one another and
shudder as if they’re coming out of a dream.
It’s opium folk.
slips off. We refresh the inner being with beer.
The stage crowds up with guitars, keyboards, a drum
kit and .. a cello? Now there’s an instrument
you don’t often see wielded in anger these
days. Right enough, Joanna
Newsom plays the harp and she’s even odder
than Josephine Foster, singing in some demented
child’s voice. But she's not playing, this
I’ve heard them before. Their music is ..
you guessed .. quiet. It’s layered and textured,
tight harmonies. Someone says Pentangle, someone
else offers Jefferson Airplane. Neither are a good
frame of reference for me. They start. The talking
continues. The number ends. A smatter of applause.
They start another song. It’s even quieter.
The talking gets louder. The spell has gone.
I can hear is every bit as good as the records (which
are nothing like Pentangle or the bloody Airplane)
but they’ve lost the crowd. The cello is good
the loudest thing on stage. They leave. I suspect
they’ve cut it short. We have more beer.
By now I’m fearing for Devendra.
I mean, his albums consist of him and a guitar with
occasional, minimal backing. You can hear the dust
in the room settling. His odd, funny, sad, surreal
songs seem to appear out of thin air, improvised
on the spot. On his last tour he sat cross legged
on a platform on the stage. I look around. No-one
is sitting down, beards have remained unstroked,
there are precious few sandals. Only the perfume
of exotic cigarettes gives some hint of this being
the type of gig I’m expecting, but to be honest
you get that smell at every gig in Brighton, even
string quartets in the pavilion. He’ll be
murdered by this lot.
The stage fills again. There’s a man wearing
towels on his head. "I’m a gnome!”
he shouts. A boiled gnome. Another (bearded) wearing
a kaftan. Another (bearded) stage right and a tall
skinny (also bearded) one in the middle. There’s
lot of beards. Right enough, he’s got a song
about a beard. There’s also lot of hair. There
also appears to be blusher and mascara. There are
also, if my sweat-filled eyes do not deceive me,
are the Hairy Fairies,” says the one with
the biggest blackest beard and makeup. That makes
him Devendra. They kick off by sitting on stools
and singing in Spanish and then plug in. His shirt
comes off. It’s rock n roll! The whole gig
teeters on the edge of disaster as he gets an audience
member to come up and sing a song, then follows
it with a cod reggae one. Never a good idea the
cod reggae. Then just as the vaudeville threatens
to kill everything he rescues it: by the musicianship,
good humour, talent ... and the songs.
Ah yes, the songs: he mashes together a number
by Lauren Hill with one penned by Charles Manson,
there’s songs about bestiality (a pig, if
you’re interested), a psychedelic squid
(that goes down very well here) there’s
hermaphrodites and bald men wanting their children
to be hairy so they can be warm in winter. This
is folk? It might be, but it’s also glam
rock cut with disco. He’s always had the
voice of Bolan but now it’s plugged-in Bolan.
Then it hits me.. the Hairy fairies are the new
Spirit, he’s Randy California, the kid who
could do anything. He can switch from disco to
glam to acoustic, English to Spanish, subject
to subject because ... hell.. because he can.
At this moment in his life, songs are flowing
from him as naturally as speaking. The audience
is pogoing, shouting. I wonder who will be the
first to cry “Judas!” but we’re
all grown up now. The lights come on, the band
play on. Witches, beards and hairy fairies. Welcome
to the new weird. - Dave Broom (Devendra Banhart
photo Steve Gullick, others X)
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