PHOTOS / RECAP: Devendra Banhart @ Regency Ballroom, SF 5/21/13

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
11. Daniel
12. Bad Girl
13. Mi Negrita
14. Cristobal Risquez
15. Seahorse
16. Something French
17. Never Seen Such Good Things
18. Little Boys
19. Your Fine Petting Duck
E: Carmensita

*Devendra Banhart solo

Photos by Justin Yee

  • http://dominicmercurio.com/ Dominic Mercurio

    great review, but i think its worth mentioning the great deal of technical difficulties in regards to the lights and (to me at least) obvious frustration from Devendra.

    He seemed to want them to turn the lights up on the rest of the band and not just him towards the beginning…when that didn’t happen he literally stepped out of the spotlight which was solely shining on him in an attempt to put him on equal ground with the rest of his backing band. after yelling to the stage crew to turn off the spotlight – most of the show was actually played in extremely low light with people yelling “we cant see you!” during one break between songs. late in the set he finally asked the audience if they could see him, and then asked the venue to bring up the lights…at which point they turned them up VERY slightly to which he sarcastically responded “woah, its like the sun just came out”. throughout the set his band members seemed to keep wandering off to the side of the stage to work things out…but they never really seemed to work it all out. eventually the lights came up to a moderate level (but still not nearly as bright as I’ve seen this stage get in previous concert outings).

    I’ve seen Devendra before…but he was rather subdued at this show (except for a wild and awesome outburst during “Little Boys”), and unfortunately it seemed to be due to his frustration with the venue and communication over the lights not turning on. There was even an extraordinarily long break after his set before his encore (which only consisted of one song before abruptly ending). I love Devendra, and it was still a great performance, but I’ve seen him in a better mood live and the result was a better show.

    just my input.