Devendra Banhart: Live last night
By Patrick Foster
Devendra Banhart is just evolving, y'all.
The eccentric Californian has been criticized recently for wandering too far from his folky, freaky beginnings, and while there were a few indulgent interludes at the 9:30 club last night, his 100-minute show revealed an artist steadily evolving from -- but never disregarding -- his core.
(The less jamming the better, after the jump.)
True, 2007's "Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon" was a (mostly) forgettable mess and his new "What Will We Be" (his first for a major label, Warner Bros.) sounds like a mélange of Tim Buckley, Leon Redbone and Ten Years After. But in live performance, he stripped away most of the frivolous trappings of his newer songs and cast them as sinewy folk-rock, by turns swervy and delicate.
Older songs like "The Charles C. Leary," "Little Yellow Spider" and "How's About Tellin' A Story" were given spirited acoustic guitar and voice readings. Newer material -- the ska readymade "Foolin'," the Soft Boys-ish "Shabop Shalom" and two of his best new songs, "Angelika" and "16th & Valencia, Roxy Music" -- was filtered through his two-guitar, bass and drums backing band, The Grogs. Those tunes sounded fresh and lively, logical extensions of his hippie-troubadour personality.
What didn't sound as fresh and lively were his detours into indulgent, freewheeling jam-mode. The closing trio of songs, which included a number written by his drummer (Banhart had each of his band members sing one of their own songs, including Little Joy guitarist Rodrigo Amarante) devolved into senseless sludge rock, which suited none of the players' strengths. So, despite ending on a dour note and offering a spirited, reverent crowd no encore, Banhart's set was nonetheless uplifting: a sign that his recent recorded missteps are little more than the harmless wanderings of an artist in evolution.
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