What happens when every guy at your coffee shop starts rocking long hair and a beard? If you’re Devendra Banhart, you ditch the hippie costume, start playing around with a synthesizer, and release a new album. Earlier this year the Texas born, Venezuela raised musician released his eighth solo album, Mala, revealing a more mature side to the once hippie-dippie, nature rocker. But Banhart’s show last night at The Regency Ballroom proved his new album isn’t as much a departure from his freak folk roots as it is a musical evolution. The Mala pop sound is providing Banhart with yet another spectrum of sounds to play with.
“It’s good to be home,” Banhart proclaimed, reassuring an excited audience that they too were home. The audience was markedly captivated by Banhart’s every note and gesture, like children sitting around a campfire waiting for a story to unfold. As Banhart dropped into “Little Yellow Spider” the energy of the room intensified and the audience clapped and sang along. Banhart harnessed the energy of the crowd and fed it back to them offering a boyish jig and playful impersonations of the animals in the song. “Little white monkey staring at the sand,” he sang. “Maybe that monkey figured out something I couldn’t understand, who knows.”
The tempo picked up as Banhart’s band joined him on stage with “Golden Girls” and “Für Hildegard von Bingen”, two danceable pop songs with Euro club undertones. This up-tempo carried through most of the set with “Can’t Help But Smiling” infused with laughter, gypsy ballad “Quedate Luna”, and Klezmer pop tune “Shabop Shalom.” Banhart commanded for the lights to shine on the crowd and he subsequently serenaded the crowd with “Little Boys.” The set peaked with “Seahorse,” a loud, reverb-rich song with a couple solid minutes of jamming that confirmed that Banhart can play rock and roll, too. Banhart’s all-male bad included the opener, Rodrigo Amarante of Little Joy on bass. The band supported the Banhart well, save for a minor hiccup on “Your Fine Petting Duck” with some half-baked backup vocals. It’s worth noting that the vocal track on the studio version of this song are sung by a female who also happens to be Banhart’s fiancee.
Banhart’s music is an exotic melting pot of styles blended together with ocean water and seaweed to go down easily. He’s shown a prolific sense of writing short, catchy songs that explore the human condition, love and nature with effortless wit. But what distinguishes Banhart most from contemporary folk singers is his stagecraft. Banhart radiates vibrations from every part of his body–from his fingers and step to his eyes and, most notably, his voice. Not only has he mastered a vocal range that spans in quality from delicate crooning to feathery, emphatic yodeling, he also uses hand gestures to manipulate his vocal mix. Above all, Banhart delivered a lively performance in celebration of the wild, weird world we live in. The kind of performance that makes you want to fly your freak flag high.
Last night’s show marked the culmination of Banhart’s California tour, but you can catch him in Portland and Sasquatch Music Festival this week before he moves east across the United States eventually landing in Europe.
Devendra Banhart at The Regency 5/21/2013
1. The Body Breaks *
2. A Sight to Behold*
3. Little Yellow Spider*
4. At The Hop (shoutout to Andy Cabic)*
5. My Dearest Friend*
6. Golden Girls
7. Für Hildegard von Bingen
8. Can’t Help But Smilin
9. Shabop Shalom
10. Quedate Luna
12. Bad Girl
13. Mi Negrita
14. Cristobal Risquez
16. Something French
17. Never Seen Such Good Things
18. Little Boys
19. Your Fine Petting Duck
*Devendra Banhart solo