Live at City Varieties on Wednesday, 3rd August 2005
This didn't feel much like a gig. In fact, it felt like a few stoned hippies jamming and having some silly, ridiculous fun whilst they can. And God damn if this wasn't just the most enjoyable gig I've seen for ages.
Apologies readers, for Lauren Strain was going to review this gig, and I know that pretty much everyone loves her articles for her outstanding writing abilities, but I'm afraid you'll have to do with my non-sensical jibberings on this one.
The evening started with Sir Richard Bishop (that sounds like the opening to a BBC costume drama if ever I heard one) playing his furious blues licks on his solitary acoustic guitar. There were no lyrics, no band, no nothing. Just him, a guitar and one microphone into which he thanked us for listening every once in a while.
It wasn't the most exciting thing in the world to watch, but there was something compelling about watching him thrash away at his acoustic guitar - in fact, it was impossible not to watch, I got completely engrossed at one point. I likened it to watching your friend noodle on a guitar, albeit a friend who is very good at the instrument and wears a hat.
Espers were on next, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that this lot were just the most miserable bastards in the world, had it not been for their guitarist regaling us with anecdotes and stories that ranged from vintage horror films, to the Muppets, right down to what MDF is. "I'm gonna stop now, this is getting ridiculous" he's heard to say before they gently ease into their psychedelic, trippy neo-folk. Their songs maybe had a tendency to go on for a while, but never truly outstayed their welcome. It ranged from the beautiful, the haunting, to the eerily melancholic all night, with lovely wistful vocals and some highly skilled finger picking. Hardly fun, but an interesting listen nonetheless.
Then Devendra Banhart and his band come on, and everything changes. This wasn't a gig in the ordinary sense. In the ordinary sense, there's a stage, a band plays and the audience listens to it, applauds, then goes home. This gig however, had way much more than that. It was almost like the music halls of Victorian Britain, all lively audience participation and gut laughing all night.
The band played a concoction of new songs, covers (the best being a brilliant rendition of 'Doo Wop (That Thing)' by Lauren Hill) and classics all night long, with brief interludes for Callum, some guy whose birthday it was, to get up onstage and play some guitar after Devendra asked the audience if anyone would like to share their songs. It was an amazing thing to see, and totally in the spirit of the kind of 'heeeey, everyone's like, totally cool, maaan' hippy ethos.
His lyrics, between song banter, and just general clowning around on stage had the crowd laughing away all night, making it a thoroughly entertaining show. During another new song (there were an awful lot of them) called 'I Feel Just Like A Child', he invited the audience to chicken dance with him- "Don't worry, if you close your eyes, no-one can see you." So mid-song, a drunken member of said audience jumped up, and rushed onto the stage, just next to the main man himself, and started flailing his limbs in some kind of spaz-funk gyrating.
It was Devendra alone, under a solitary spotlight to finish the gig, running through the divine 'It's A Sight To Behold' and the song no gig would be complete without, his anthem 'Little Yellow Spider', complete with comedy sound effects from his friend, sat off stage.
You'd think that the end of the night couldn't be any happier, wackier or funnier, but then he announced that they couldn't play any more songs due to the people who work at the City Varieties being volunteers, and they had busses to catch. Faced with this dilemma, they took it to the streets, old school style.
After about 10 minutes of waiting, the band spilled out onto the packed street just next to the City Varieties, and jammed away on some acoustics and bongos. The entire crowd, now rammed into the smallest of back alleys, whooping and hollering like they had done in the safety of the hall just minutes before.
Now, that was a sight to behold.