9e1294e6fcdbbaf68ecdf171bd269f81651a92e2“Kill yr idols” advocated Sonic Youth back in the day, an extreme strategy that is not actually an invitation to murder but a warning against putting faith in heroes. Bob Dylan meant something similar when he sang (in Subterranean Homesick Blues) “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters”.

Be your own person is the implicit message. While it’s ok to admire and respect others, it’s always worth remembering that people have a nasty habit of letting you down. Keeping a healthy sense of detachment avoids being disillusioned. Far safer to set your own goals, maintain your own standards and generally search for the hero inside yourself.

Devendra Banhart is a case in point. I was a huge fan of his when he burst upon the scene under the wing of head Swan Michael Gira. 2004’s Rejoicing In The Hands remains one of my all time favorite albums and I had the good fortune to see him play songs from this and its immediate follow ups – Nino Rojo and Cripple Crow. For a while he could do no wrong in my eyes. His charm, wit and good looks added to his appeal. In short , though not quite an idol , he used to be a hero.

Fast forward to an open air concert last night just outside my home town of Cesena in Italy where the songs he played – from his underwhelming last two albums Mala and Ape In Pink Marble – were not anywhere near the same league as his earlier work. I had expected this but what I hadn’t counted on was the smug and self-indulgent nature of his performance.

Devendra is a self-styled ‘Fancy Man’ who has now gone electric and fronts a jobbing band of four average and un-charming musicians. On top of this, the between song banter was repetitive, unfunny and irritating. Instead of “Grazie mille” (literally, a thousand thanks) he upped this number to ‘Grazie un billione’ and said this about a dozen times, even though it was only half amusing first time around.

He generally larked around a lot and camped it up to excess, reaching the point whereby the songs seemed of secondary importance. He and his band seemed to be having fun but there was no real empathy with the audience.

The applause was polite but muted and the lack of any real crowd pleasing songs in the set list meant that the atmosphere remained lukewarm throughout. Getting a member from the audience to play a song came across as a tired ritual rather than a spontaneous gesture of good will.

In short, the show was a major disappointment. The last song he played before the obligatory encore was called ‘Celebration’. The irony was not lost on me.