Review: Devendra Banhart @ Sixth & I 3.15.17

Devendra Banhart

Photo by Jon Beasley and Isabelle Albuquerque

In the Sixth & I Sanctuary, Devendra Banhart fans packed into pews to hear tracks from last fall’s Ape in Pink Marble. The rich colors of the lighting, the wooden seating, and tall ceilings made the performance that much more grand and polished. But, the silliness and easygoing nature of Banhart and his band flowed in a softer, more free-spirited direction.

The memorable night began with three sets from Josiah Steinbrick, Noah Georgeson, Gregory Rogove and Huw Evans (H. Hawkline), all later forming Banhart’s touring band, The Grogs. The group of esteemed musicians, along with Banhart on guitar, started on “Celebration.” Banhart’s calm voice came in slow over psychedelic chords and Rogove’s musing cymbals.

Steinbrick started a rhythmic synth loop as Banhart set down his guitar to sing “Saturday Night,” doing a goofy interpretive dance to the lyrics. Metronomic kick drum beats under Georgeson’s smooth soloing guitar melody and Steinbrick’s piano reverie created an aura of beautiful presentness. Banhart picked his guitar back up to play a subtle celestial tune on the bridge.

The slow performance of tracks, carefree but dynamic, bordered on insane and genius. Banhart has mastered a minimalist, deliberate in the Cagean sense of term, way of performing. The music clearly plays in Banhart’s head, and as he goes to translate it to a crowd, it turns into a loving, loose and funny version of itself.

The Grogs left while Banhart played a couple songs with just his guitar, tastefully thought-out solo melodies hitting the crowd. The dynamics of the sound took the tracks far. The band came back and jumped into “Jon Lends a Hand,” the lyricism on the track written with Jonathan Richman’s love songs in mind and embodying Banhart’s silly music persona. After playing, the band brought out a birthday candle for Evans to blow out.

“Today’s the day that all the birds are singing for you,” Banhart told Evans.

The fans sat quietly, taking it all in as Banhart in a woolly cardigan sang “Für Hildegard von Bingen” with his sonorous voice and curious tone. On the chorus, Evans’ alternating bass chords with Steinbrick’s moonlit glassy synthesizer led Banhart to rock back and forth in an airy dance.

Banhart turned to the crowd, saying they should remember, “Love and tolerance towards all.”

After minutes of profoundly ranting to the crowd about gratitude, the band went into the chill grove of “Mi Negrita.” On the next few tracks, the gliding keyboard tones continued, the jazz-influenced drums swung and Banhart pulled out some improvisational guitar solos.

The harsher, muted chords of Banhart’s electric guitar joined his cryptic vocals for “Golden Girls,” as careful instrumentation and light drums came in sporadically. Banhart yelled periodically, complementing the minor key in a mysterious way. The others on-stage started to shout too, fans following.

The lights changed from blue to pink as Rogove took on the task of reciting the beginning of “Shabop Shalom,” while others mixed around with psychedelic tones. Fans yelled “Get bent!” before the jam of the chorus. Banhart flowed around the stage and danced with his band’s giddy and free-spirited performance.

Banhart brought his interpretive dancing back for the encore with “Fig in Leather,” hopping everywhere with his microphone. “Carmensita” ended things with improv-heavy instrumentation and cheers.