Devendra Banhart The Ogden Theater September 10, 2007 Better than: Actually being at a show in 1972, the Ogden was apparently a shithole back in the day and the sound last night was incredible. Also better than the Ben Gibbard nonsense that went on down the block.
A few songs into the set, a concert from which Banhart and band donated all their show fee to the Native American Rights Fund (this included a few $100 VIP seats, though the balcony was closed and the only “seats” I saw were a few stools clustered around a cocktail table and roped off near the sound board), my friend Ricardo leans over and asks me where the beard stops and the hair begins. He's talking about the show's star, whose wavy, dark main is so voluminous it has nowhere to go but to swarm the area under Devendra's chin, making the line between locks and facial hair indistinguishable. You have to admire this dedication to the farming of anything, cultivation like this speaks of a commitment most of us could never muster.
I've never been to a show where the smoke machine was used to the perfect effect. Curling wisps of smoke turned beams of light into lava lamps, completing the whole aesthetic of the evening; I felt transported back to 1972. It made me wish I liked drugs more because, when the band started, the smell of really good marijuana began to float on the first light, spiraling notes of Devendra's sedate and seated plucking.
Starting out slow, Devendra and his five bandmates played his latin-tinged pschedelia through Fender tube amps with a passive contentment that was infectious. The insence lit, the six-piece choir begun, the show was transcendent from the start, one of the only times I think I know what my father means when he talk about the things he misses from a traditional smell and bells Catholic mass. J.C. would definitely dig this band of merry pranksters. With a few exceptions, the band played mainly new tracks off the forthcoming album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Mountain, and nobody seemed to mind. Sure, there were a few knuckleheads (myself included) who shouted out requests for favorites but, for the most part, everyone seemed enraptured with the sheer energy and presence of the band as they worked their from the sedate and seated to balls-out rock later in the set.
But some of the more interesting moments in the show were those where Banhart invited crowd interaction.
“So, we're a band,” Devendra admitted bluntly at one point. “But we don't really have a band name,” he added, asking the crowd for suggestions.
Running through the list of names they've discarded -- Bathhouse of the Winds, Spritual Boner – Devendra was interrupted with the suggestion from one woman that they name their band Homosexual Grandmother.
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“I think that'll be the name of my memoir,” quipped Banhart. “We were Hairy Fairy for a while but we jut haven't found anything that really sticks.”
Later in the show a heckler yelled out, “Right on David Crosby,” after a particularly CSNY-esque number. Smiling, Devendra said he thought he knew a Crosby tune or two and proceeded to play “Transition in the Rain,” while his bandmates stared on questioningly until an off-mic agreement was met and the band transitioned into a blistering version of Devendra's own “Long-Haired Child.” Then there was the odd but strangely touching moment where Devendra brought Denver singer-songwriter Edward Almost up on stage to play a track chronicling the plight of “Velox the Bear,” whose life in the zoo ain't so sweet.
As Devendra noted at the end of the set, “All these sounds song the same, so it really doesn't matter which ones we play.” And it didn't. The tale of the goy who falls in love the rabbi's daughter in “Shabop Shalom” and the upbeat “Lover” -- both on the new album Smokey, which Devendra said was almost named Jewish Anarchy – were personal favorites, but they could have rocked Crosby tunes in Greek all night and I would have been stoked. It was just one of those nights. They closed the set out with dance-around-the-fire-naked anthem to the young at heart “Just Like a Child,” and I didn't even need an encore. -- Sean Cronin
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I wasn't digging too much on the new album until after the show. I didn't not like it, but after seeing them play those tunes live, I'm sold. Random Detail: One of Denver's finest boys in blue was the only person who watched the crowd from the balcony, and from the way he kept nodding his as if to say “Yes, please keep rocking,” and shaking to say, “No, don't stop the rock,” the man with the badge enjoyed himself. By the Way: Keyboardist Greg Rosgove led the band in one of his tunes, called “Bright Wind.” It may be a tune from his other band Priestbird, I don't know, but if you can track it down, you'll be rewarded for the effort.