Devendra Banhart at Billboard

“I want your babies,” screamed one enthusiastic lass when Mr. Banhart stepped on stage. Although, who could blame her? The man is damn fine. With a musician’s compulsory longish dark hair, a scraggly beard, leather vest and a spanishy accent to boot, it’s no wonder girls go wild. Raised in Venezuela until he moved to America in his teens, his accent is a weird mix of U S of A and South America, but when the band began speaking in Spanish to one another, girls in the audience audibly swooned.

Whether strumming his guitar or just singing, he made use of Billboard’s large stage by grooving. With limbs flailing, he and his band, The Grogs, played song after song of music from most of Banhart’s seven albums. At times they sounded like an innocent 1950’s, blazer-wearing boy band, at others like a reggae act and, especially toward the end of the gig, plain good-lookin’, hard-rockin’ lads.

After Angelica, clearly a crowd favourite, a jocular Banhart cheekily muttered to the crowd. “Are you feeling winsome?” he asked. “Yes,” we yelled. “Wanna fuck a turkey?” he continues. No response. He tells us about a teenager in colonial America who fucked a Turkey. I can’t remember if Banhart told us why he did it but he did say: “this is what I was reading about before we started playing so that’s why I’m telling you.” Fair enough.

By this time, the stage had cleared. The rest of the band had made way for some intimate, seated folk songs from Banhart. Unfortunately, due to the seat, it was difficult to see. This, coupled with the slow and mellow songs made my attention wane slightly.  However, when I could feast my eyes once more on Mr Banhart and his band, and the songs developed into more vigorous compositions, my interest was restored.

A queer aspect to Banhart’s songs is his voice. Although usually pleasant and evocative, his incessant additions of random long notes of vibrato reminded me of sheep. This was not a bad thing, just a point of interest. Another significant point to make is Banhart’s musical versatility. Not only can he sing and play the guitar, but also he can play the piano and percussion. He’s also been around the traps a while. “This is a song I wrote ten years ago and still don’t know why,” he mentioned before one track.

After playing a danceable reggae song and admitting that he was once a big Phish fan, he asks for a hat and sunglasses from the audience. Acquiring a balloon-animal halo and a huge pair of sunglasses, he looks quirky but relinquishes singing duties to the bass player. Later, he bequeaths the sunnies to the drummer, announcing that said drummer wrote the next song. It’s a ripper song too – percussion driven, hard and syncopated.

When the crowd was screaming for an encore, it was the girls’ shrill voices that dominated. Satisfied with an encore of two psychedelic jams with screeching guitars, he finally departed – and the room was left in awe.


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