Devendra Banhart and his super-group friends all gathered in New York City last week to play a show that changed how I went out about listening to all of his other records. All of his past efforts have finally come together and become a fully realized sound. I've always been a fan of Devendra and if it's the "freak folk" label, the face paint, or the long beard that might scare you away, fear not. Devendra and his band, The Spiritual Bonerz, is now a full on rock band. There was nothing folk about the show at the Grand Ballroom. There might have been a few acoustic guitars, but there were more guitar solos and Les Pauls than anything else. Their beautiful harmonizing and Tropicalia came across as a modern day Spanish- speaking CSNY. Vetiver's Andy Cabic, along with Devendra, has perhaps one of the finest voices in music today and between him, Noah Gorgeson and Greg Rogove (of Priestbird), the band seemed like it could do no wrong. And they didn't.
Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon might not be Devendra's best record, but that's not to say that it's not his greatest collection of songs. It's a classic "You gotta go see him live" scenario here, as many of the songs take on new life in the live setting. "Seahorse", while still a rocking on tape, was a ROCKER live and soared as one of the best jams I've heard live in a long while. Even "Shabop Shalom", a song that I find myself skipping while listening to the album, turned into something new and exciting. It was easier to see the parody live and makes the album version jump past the intentionally dry production. The Tropicalia/Bossa Nova infused songs like "Samba Vexillographica", while for most hard to pull off seemed perfectly natural for the band and only seemed to add to the ever growing realization of Devendra and his music.
While some of might have been weirded out by the rather young crowd at the show (lots of kids in what seemed to be Halloween Hippie costumes), I thought it was fantastic. If a guy can get some young kids to turn off MTV and start listening to the 1,000 different influences that he takes in on his records, then we're at a great place in music right now. Bravo.
Photo By Daniel Arnold