To call Devendra Banhart prolific would be an understatement. Since making his debut in 2002, the Venezuelan/American singer-songwriter has released seven full-length albums, not to mention a plethora of EPs and singles. With a discography as extensive as this, it's only natural for the live show to keep its audience on its toes, and that's exactly what happened last night at The Observatory.
Banhart took the stage solo and began strumming the opening riff of “The Body Breaks,” off 2004's Rejoicing In The Hands. As he sang, he grunted charismatically. He stuck with this album and transitioned into “A Sight To Behold,” and the audience stayed attentively silent, which is a rarity at The Observatory. “How's everyone doing tonight?” he asked between songs. As his fans cheered in reply, he continued: “I'd like to dedicate this song to Art and Mom. Mom is, well, she's my mom.” He played the jovial “Little Yellow Spider,” and enhanced each of the song's animal characters by adapting different voices for each one. His mother danced and sang along in the front row.
It wasn't until song seven that the quirky singer delved into songs off his latest release, this year's Mala. He played “Won't You Come Over,” a Dylan-esque track off the record, and as he strummed and sang it was as if he was falling deeper into character. He wiggled and scrunched his face with each word. At the end of this song, Rodrigo Alamante (Los Hermanos, Little Joy) and the rest of Banhart's band accompanied him and together they played selections off the new album, including its single, “Fur Hildegard von Bingen,” and the Spanish sung “Mi Negrita.” With the comfort of five other musicians sharing the stage, Banhart let loose (literally, he took off his jacket and was wearing a marvelous hawaiian print button-up) and lost himself entirely in his music. He shimmied and shook; he contorted his face; he hopped on the ridge of the stage and flamboyantly strutted. While the band played “Never Seen Such Good Things,” another highlight off Mala, he snapped his fingers and encouraged the crowd to join along. Soon the room was chirping.
However, the audience didn't really start grooving until the doo-wop inspired “Shabop Shalom.” The energy continued when he played “Little Boys,” and he dropped to his knees, swaying and grinding during the musical breaks. Exhausted, he ended his set with “Your Fine Petting Duck,” a (not so) thoughtful call-and-response duet with his fiancee Ana Kras. But the night was not over, and the six-piece re-emerged for a short encore comprising the hip-shaking “Carmensita,” and primal “I Feel Just Like A Child.” Banhart added a new dimension to the song by collapsing into screeches and yawps during the beginning middle and end. Needless to say, his fans left happy.
Critical Bias: Devendra Banhart is one of those acts you have to see live to really “get.” His charisma adds a new depth to his songs that recordings simply cannot convey.
The Crowd: Stylish chicks, dudes with beards, and Devendra's mom.
Overheard In The Crowd: “You're a fucking beautiful man!” To which Devendra replied, “YOU'RE a fucking beautiful man!”
Random Notebook Dump: It was cool to see Rodrigo Amarante and the rest of Devendra's band play the supporting slot for the show. It made the night seem that much more intimate.