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The Vacuum Issue 11 spacer Issue 11
Michael Gira
Solo Acoustic Show With Devendra Banhart
Pavilion Bar, Ormeau Road
Thursday 30th October

by Jonny Bailie
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Michael Gira is a New York based record-label owning folk-rock avant garde artist, a boundary breaker a la Warhol and Cocteau, and perhaps the only similarly qualified punk-hick ever to grace the Ormeau Road. Whatever the unlikelihood of this event, he is quick in making the venue his own (even as far as choosing the 'authentically' country pre-gig background music) and the crowd reaction to what followed showed that Gira was already a hero to many of them.
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Gira's early strumming on his guitar confirmed an initial worry relating to a trained artist's interpretation of music, certainly leaning more towards 'art' than music. Whatever the category though it was good. It was, in fact, encouraging to hear a slightly different slant on chords and vocals, with a concentration on musical texture and lyrics of refined and at times violent power. Throughout the set, the passion in his tone proved genuine. Gira is the Depeche Mode of folk, the William Burroughs of country music, though to say he has a voice of an angel would be to say so too does that poor bint Bonnie Tyler. Belfast is, of course, no stranger to intimate acoustic sets but it is encouraging to find an underground community of Gira devotees so far afield who, wherever his music comes from, understand his different language.
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A religious experience was the last thing I expected in the Pavilion, but miracles happen every day and it was support singer Devendra Banhart, a bearded Jesus Christ lookalike, that completed and healed my dubious and traditional mind. The Californian singer sat, legs crossed, on an old desk, singing songs of 'milky moons' and letting go of stream-of-consciousness cacklings with a resonance of sheer bliss. This singer would do well in Belfast and perhaps, if the audience had pulled together in the Royston Vasey sense, we could have made him stay for good, entertaining us from his new cage, writing his trademark two songs per day. Unfortunately, he left at the end of the night.
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This was the kind of gig that would have worked well in one of the city's bigger pubs (Empire Music Hall or the Limelight) and the fact that it succeeded so well in a smaller and less convenient setting is encouraging as regards the developing music scene in Belfast. With nights like the Arcadia Cafe's Singer/Songwriter evening happening, we could soon see a rise in small live and unplugged sessions, possibly even a rise in the sale of cowboy boots and hats.
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