Devendra Banhart At Club Bahia, Tuesday September 27th 2016
Devendra Banhart is an eccentric in the world of music, he comes on stage alone with his guitar, sits down and asks if anyone has a request, ‘I have no plan’ he even says. It looks like the encore of a show but these actually were the first minutes of his performance at the Bahia club, a place he apparently had always wanted to play, according to what he told us on Tuesday night.
It is a little strange to start with this kind of intimacy, it’s half planned half improvised (most of the songs were actually on his set list), it’s also a way to get very close to his audience right away, and the crowd listens with the deepest silent respect, and Devendra sings softly with his signature tremolo vocals, and despite the fact you could hear a needle drop, you barely hear him. I was hearing him alright, because I was in the front, but I am still wondering about people in the back! He was so discreet and his music so quiet – he was barely touching the chords of his guitar – that he seemed barely there, playing everything with a lot of subtlety and long silences. I thought about Iman who jokingly told me that a Devendra Banhart concert would be the perfect occasion to catch up with my sleep, but it was completely impossible to close my eyes, Devendra’s charima was undeniable.
He was also in a very good mood, ending all his songs by a laugh, kneeling down to shake hands, joking a lot, in English and in Spanish so that a lot escaped me. This pre-show sounded like a long Brazilian-inspired ballad, like a lo-fi version of Caetano Veloso, someone he admires greatly, and I am not even sure he played the songs that were on the setlist because he certainly did ‘Angelika’ and the adorable ‘At The Hop’ which weren’t on the setlist. He also picked unfamiliar songs like ‘Eviction Party’, a tune featured on a Japanese import, which tells us about the time when ‘Everyone I know got kick out of San Francisco’, and this is the occasion for more laugh and clapping.
There were a few new and even quieter songs, like ‘Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green’ off his last album ‘Ape in Pink Marble’, which has this line ‘Love’s making me sing’, and I have the impression that this could be a good description of Devendra’s entire life.
He was charming, very thin and agile, far more well-groomed than his past barefoot-hippie image, a delicate man becoming the definition of whimsical in front of our eyes. When the full band came to join him on stage, things became slightly more animated, and Devendra became even more unpredictable, but barely louder. Using his guitar for a song then going free hands, dancing and using his arms a lot, shaking his hands like a cat that has suddenly touched water, doing yogi-ninja poses or whatever these gestures were. If I am not really familiar with his new material – I especially liked the old Devendra but didn’t really listened to him for almost a decade – the songs all have this Latin flavor and a unique eccentricity in the indie folk-pop world, freak folk he really is.
There were these almost aborted-sounding songs, like the oscillating ‘Golden Girls’ or ‘Für Hildegard von Bingen’, which made you expect for more before stopping suddenly, there were these lo-fi strange reveries (‘Saturday Night’, ‘Linda’, ‘Daniel’) sometimes sad and always melancholic, these comic numbers ‘Fancy Man’, your typical freak dance numbers, catchy and playful, filled with Devendra’s vocal prowess, like ‘Never Seen Such Good Things’, but especially there were these full-flavor Latin songs sung in Spanish, which were true crowd pleasers like ‘Mi Negrita’, or ‘Carmensita’, turning into a Brazilian carnival, or ‘Lover’, bringing a South-African vibe.
Among the abrupt accelerations, the spread notes, the irresistible and odd gesticulations, the hand waving to control the band, and the close-to-whisper moments during which he was barely singing in the mic, the very-requested ‘Baby’ came up, and it was a dance exuberance. With ‘Baby’ and this other song ‘Long Haired Child’, which goes like this, ‘Baby, baby, that’s for sure/Shoobop, shoo bop’, I have to say that Devendra completely owns the ‘baby, baby’ mantra, not Justin Bieber.
If the show had started like the most intimate thing ever, it was ending with a happy and good-humor dance floor. Texas-born, Venezuela-raised Devendra Barnhart doesn’t certainly take himself very seriously, he laughs too much for that, he often shifts from one style to the other without notice, but his sound is similar to his curious drawings, it is the work of a minimalist who transforms his many moods into odd and heartfelt tunes for the next generation.
Alone (what the setlist said)
Luna De Margarita
Sight to Behold
Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green
Good Time Charlie
(But he also did ‘Angelika’ and ‘At The Hop’)
With full band
Für Hildegard von Bingen
Never Seen Such Good Things
Long Haired Child