Someone who didn’t know recently asked me who Vetiver were. I answered by saying: “You know Bob Dylan, and how in the late ’60s he was backed up by The Band, but they were, in fact, crucial artists in their own right? Well Vetiver are The Band to Devendra Banhart‘s Bob Dylan.’
Now, that’s surely the first and last time Devendra Banhart and Dylan will ever be mentioned in the same sentence. But its true, Vetiver are a group of young men on an equal musical standing or higher, than the folk-pixie whose shadow they stand in.
The awkward and geeky Andy Cabic is the singer, songwriter and driving force behind the vehicle that is Vetiver. He has overseen many evolving line-up changes since the band’s eponymous debut album in 2004. His delicate acoustic fingerings are accompanied by superb electric guitar manipulations by his right-hand man (I couldn’t find his name anywhere, but he made the women swoon). Their new album, To Find Me Gone, is rich and lush, and sounds like all that was great in American music in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Tonight they veer between the twang of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the psychedelic space-rock of The Grateful Dead and indeed, the rootsy swagger of The Band.
Cabic’s songwriting and melodic gifts aren’t quite a premier league proposition (aside from the magnificent Maureen, performed tonight) but the symphonic Americana this four-piece produce in a live setting renders that nit-pick null and void. Opening tonight with Oh Papa from their first album sets a slow-burning vibe, before You May Be Blue, one of the standout tracks from To Find Me Gone sees them hit their peak of the evening. They even manage a cover of Steely Dan‘s Dirty Work. “Steely Dan are folk, right?” says Cabic. Devendra himself leaps on stage mid-way through their set for a couple of numbers, before humbly leaving so as to avoid stealing the show.
The Spitz is a hot, sweaty and crowded venue but is putting on an admirable folk festival throughout September – other gigs include John Renbourn, Bert Jansch and Beth Orton and Davey Graham. The organisers’ only flaw that I can see was the choice of support act tonight. Mi and L’au are possibly the worst act I’ve ever seen. I’m all for their aimless drones on guitars and violin ‘for late night reflection’ but the Spitz is a rough and ready place where music must be interactive and communal, with performers and audience collaborating to create a jolly good time. Vetiver did it brilliantly.