Devendra Banhart at Mill City Nights, 5/30/13
Photo By Erik Hess
With Rodrigo Amarante
Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
May 30, 2013
It took until the encore before Devendra Banhart fully let his guard down and started to celebrate his birthday. And even then, he looked a bit lost and confused as to what to do, as his band serenaded him with a ramshackle cover of the Beatles' "Birthday." For while the night was indeed a celebratory one, beginning with a portion of the crowd singing him a song in Spanish for his special day, Banhart remained artfully composed and restrained for much of the early portion of the evening, taking a more refined, workmanlike approach to the beginning stages of his 85-minute set in support of his glorious new record, Mala. But when things got a bit loose and fluid in the later portions of the show, the performance got a whole lot more fun.
The performance began with a string of solo songs, with a behatted Banhart sheepishly thanking the crowd for their warm greeting with a cursory "gracias," before easing into a delicate take on "The Body Breaks." After a touching version of "A Sight to Behold," Banhart announced, "We're going to do a playful reworking of this next one." And indeed, "Little Yellow Spider" was given a sprightly bounce to it that proved to be the highlight of his four-song solo run, which ended with a moving but morose rendition of "My Dearest Friend."
A four-piece backing band (which included opener Rodrigo Amarante, Noah Georgeson and Josiah Steinbeck, as well as the Strokes' Fab Moretti on drums) then joined Banhart, and the pace of the set picked up immediately, with Devendra jocularly hiking up his pants as the haunting rhythms of "Golden Girls" kicked in, augmented by his lyrical calls to "Get on the dancefloor." But it would be a while before the group would give us anything we could truly dance to, as "Für Hildegard von Bingen" a very Strokes-like rendition of "Baby," and "Cristobal Risquez" all floated by pleasantly enough, but was plagued by a mix that didn't bring Banhart's vocals to the front, as they frequently got lost within the din the band were generating. It was like his vocals were mixed for when he was playing solo, but were never adjusted once the group came out to join him.
But a funky, ripping take on "Long Haired Child," gave a much needed jolt to the set, with the band giving the song a psychedelic, Doors-like feel. But they slowed things down again with a plodding take on "Daniel" that never really made a connection, with Banhart's plaintive vocals again being lost in the noisy club. And when Devendra spoke again to the crowd, he deflected the attention of his birthday, and instead praised the group he's playing with. "Good evening, once again, ladies and gentlemen. It's a special night, here this evening. It's special because I'm lucky enough to spend tonight with this musical family of mine -- I love these guys."
Photos By Erik Hess
A Latin-flavored take on "Mi Negrita" gave the middle section of the show some spice, but again was immediately followed by a doleful take on "Bad Girl," with the band giving the somber track a Beatles-esque twist, but the subtleties of the number were obscured by the commotion of the nightclub. A rollicking, guitar and keyboard-driven take on "Seahorse" really picked up the energy level of the show, which was followed by a fluid transition to an equally captivating take on "Something French," a one-two combo which launched the best segment of the show.
"This is a samba song," Banhart announced mischievously before their next number. "We'd like to play some samba for you." And with that, the band launched into a jubilant take on "I Feel Just Like a Child," with Banhart dancing around the stage with the mic stand in hand, lost in the exultant spirit of the song. The smooth grooves of "Never Seen Such Good Things" kept the party vibes going strong, which continued straight into the funky, sultry vibes of "Lover," with Banhart and his band giving us a fresh Venezuelan twist on classic R&B.
A languid, leisurely take on "Little Boys" brought the pace of the show back down again, which, other than the vocal mix, represented the only negative of the night. The energy level of the show dropped off so drastically from one song to the next, and the difference between when the band was hitting and when they were rather listless was quite dramatic, and led to the uneven pacing of the performance. But the main set ended triumphantly, with a soaring, spirited take on "Your Fine Petting Duck," which exploded in a pulsing, electronic-fueled coda which was greeted with a large ovation. "Love you guys. Thanks! See you next time," Banhart said warmly with a wave, as he and the band left the stage.
Photos By Erik Hess
The encore began just as the show did, with Banhart alone on stage with just a guitar. A soulful, tenderhearted take on "Won't You Come Over" started things strongly, with the rest of the band joining him to sing harmonies as the song soared to a close. Amarante then took to the microphone and surprised Banhart, "We love you, bro. This one's for you." And with that, the rest of the band kicked into the Beatles' "Birthday," with Devendra looking a bit lost, not knowing if he should join in the musical ruckus or just take it all in. After he cut the band off, a bit embarrassed but appreciative, he announced, "Here's our last tune. Thanks. Really." And he led the band through a lively take on "Carmensita" which stylishly closed out the night. "Buenas noches," Banhart wished as he left to start fully celebrating his birthday now that his "work" was finally done.
Personal Bias: This was my first time seeing Devendra Banhart, and I must admit I started to get into him again (after years of tuning out his work) after reading David Browne's excellent profile of him in the Times. And the gorgeous, stunning Mala sealed the deal for me.
The Crowd: A mix of indie kids, hippies, and Thursday night revelers.
Overheard In The Crowd: "How do you pronounce his name again?"
Random Notebook Dump: Strangely enough, you could hear the vocals in the mix a lot better down in the Nether Bar.
The Body Breaks
A Sight To Behold
Little Yellow Spider
My Dearest Friend
Für Hildegard von Bingen
Long Haired Child
I Feel Just Like A Child
Never Seen Such Good Things
Your Fine Petting Duck
Won't You Come Over (Encore)
Birthday (The Beatles)(Encore)
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