Devendra Banhart: 16 November 2009 - Vic Theatre, Chicago / Words and Pictures by Allison Taich
The Vic is normally entertains concert enthusiasts by exploiting the ample open floor space that then tiers upwards toward the sound booth and two bars. Those who prefer their own seat can enjoy views from the venue's second level auditorium-style seating. But for the contemporary poster child of eclectic-folk, Devendra Banhart, rows of fold-up chairs occupied every inch of floor space. Oh, and no assigned seats. Was this encouraging people to remain seated or was migrating towards the stage ok? Was the performance going to be eerily quiet, just a man and his guitar?
As soon as Banhart and his band took stage the fold-up chairs became pointless. Fans instantly surged forward, scattering the plastic furniture in every direction, creating a jumbled mess of an obstacle course. Between bodies and fold-ups the main floor and walkways were gridlocked. By the time the music started the odd setup was irrelevant.
Backed by “all of [his] favorite song writers”--Noah Georgeson of Little Joy (guitar), Greg Rogove of Priestbird (drums), Luckey Remington of The Pleased (bass), and Rodrigo Amarante of Little Joy (guitar/keyboards)--Banhart opened the show with the straight-beat “Long Haired Child” from his 2005 release Cripple Crow. Each downbeat and guitar flair hypnotized the crowd, each timbre complimenting the next.
Following suit were several selections from Banhart’s latest release What Will We Be, interspersed with chattiness. At one point he discussed options for his band’s official name--even taking a fan vote on the matter: Doom Fist 3D or The Grogs? Doom Fist 3D won by a landslide, prompting Banhart to refer to themselves as such for the rest of the night.
In general Banhart’s songs are imaginative, mystic, romantic, surreal, and full of energy and color. Performed live they became exotic yet familiar, far out yet close by. At times Banhart’s voice sounded like a young Lou Reed crossbred with Cat Stevens. On two occasions Doom Fist 3D left the stage, lending Banhart croon some acoustic tunes. The transitions to solo Banhart added variety, and also vocal vibrato, to an already inspiring set, allowing listeners to reflect on his multiple dimensions. Amongst the acoustic selections were older tunes like “Little Yellow Spider,” “Charles C. Leary,” and a Johnny Thunders tune “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory."
The mood did not remain quiet and collected for long. In combination with Banhart’s works, other talents of Doom Fist 3D showcased their own original compositions--namely those by Priestbird and Little Joy. For me each song sounded adventurous, poking at my inner feelings.
As the show went on and the music's intensity grew and Banhart’s interpretive dance moves began emulating Mick Jagger. The crowd became possessed by his lean build and flailing limbs, letting the music control their bodies every which way. Closing the set was “Rats,” which started with a lethargic bass line, followed by a cymbal crash and drum scat, Banhart's low, belting lyrics, a tambourine shake, and a conversation between guitars. After growling the lyrics “everyone is invited,” a dreadlocked disciple from the audience answered Banhart’s call, climbed onstage, and proceeded to rock out. Another female quickly followed, as did another and another, ultimately opening the floodgates to a free-for-all. Banhart's call, it turns out, was one many couldn't resist.