DEVENDRA BANHART @ GOTHIC THEATRE | 5/5/13 Devendra Banhart marches to the funkiest army ever, a fact that was prominently in evidence during his abbreviated set at the Gothic Theatre last night. The man does not know how to keep still. By turns joking and serious, Banhart showcased an array of attitudes that was as diverse as the songs in his back catalogue.
Banhart emerged without his trademark long black mane (maybe turning thirty a couple years back has tamed him?) and looked like he could've been any guy from the audience in his black T-shirt, jeans and sweater. Holding a Fender Jazzmaster electric guitar, he set the vibe of the show to "chill" early on with a suite of songs, including "The Body Breaks," "Little Yellow Spider" and "Hey Mama Wolf."
On stage, the scene was all Banhart playing his damn heart out, having fun and generally kicking ass. (At one point, he implored everyone to howl like wolves, and, naturally, they did.) In the audience, meanwhile, there was an abundance of girls dressed like they'd ordered their clothes from a 1993 L.L. Bean catalogu. It was fringe leather galore. Once the band emerged, the players presented a contrast in sound, though not in style.
Songs like "Golden Girls" and "Für Hildegard von Bingen" (both from the new album, Mala) remained folksy, with flourishes of tropicalia and Lou Reed-inspired rock. The shift from solo guitar to an ensemble of guitars and keys marked a shift to the dance-party part of the evening.
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Throughout the set, Banhart rattled off random stream-of-consciousness phrases ("We are the Olive Garden of music," he said at one point), and there was also an important shoutout -- Banhart's mom was in the audience. If every woman was not already in love with him at that point, they sure were after that.
Of Banhart's prodigious catalogue (he's cranked out a half-dozen albums), he strongly preferred playing recent stuff last night. Songs from Mala, which this tour is in support of, was the heavy favorite. What Will We Be, which will years from now be remembered as his masterpiece, also received much attention. This was all for the better, as the songs from these two most recent releases account for some of his strongest material. There's less artifice in those tunes than in earlier works like Cripple Crow and Niño Rojo. Maturity suits Banhart well.
This is not to say that he's become boring with age. Apropos of nothing, between songs he whispered into the mic, "I love you, too." Not to anyone in particular, as far as I could tell. Maybe he was talking to the girl near the front row waving a red pom-pom? The term "freak folk" has long been applied to Banhart's sound -- and while the folk is pretty much a thing of the past, the freakiness is indeed still applicable.
Personal Bias: Mala's already on my end-of-the-year Best Of list.
Random Detail: Maybe half the songs were sung in Portuguese last night.
By the Way: I saw Devendra play his heart out in Albuquerque years ago. Albuquerque! If there's any gig an artist could half-ass his way through, it would be this one. And you know what? He still killed it.
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