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Culture Reviews
Devendra Banhart
By Matt Siegel
After Sunday night’s obligatory encore a shirtless and sweat-soaked Devendra Banhart made an offer to the frenzied audience: “Ok, if you guys want us to play some more music we will, but otherwise we’ll just come out there and drink some vodka with you. Just let us know by making some noise.” When the audience seemed undecided Banhart ended the debate by making good on his offer, climbing directly off the stage and into the audience, where the pirate-king of Freak-Folk (dressed the part with mangy beard and a mop of tousled jet-black hair) and his band held court for the next three hours, consuming copious amounts of alcohol, mingling with the sweaty and newly-endeared fans, and creating art on anything they could find, including the t-shirt of one lucky fan.

Banhart’s genre-bending style is something of an enigma in an indie scene usually hostile to anything not easily penned in to one of its fiercely guarded sub-genres. The hippie who occilates effortlessly between folk-whispers and barn-burning rockers. The American neo-punk who peppers his songs with delicate Spanish lyrics and claims as his greatest inspiration the Brazilian Tropicalismo icon Caetano Veloso. But these contradictions seemed to matter about as much to the fans at Apelsin Club as they have to the critics and scene-makers that have made Banhart something of a folk hero in the four years since the release of his debut album, 2002’s “The Charles C. Leary.” As Banhart and his band drifted effortlessly between Spanish language folk songs like the one with which he opened the show and hard-rocking singalongs drawn mostly from his last two albums, 2004’s “Rejoicing In The Hands,” and 2005’s “Cripple Crow,” both released on Young God Records, the crowd followed along hand in glove.

While the show focused primarily on the dynamic band leader, some of the most warmly received numbers of the evening were those penned by the members of his backing band, The Hairy Fairies (although judging from the confused stares I observed, 21-year-old bass player Allisa Anderson’s macabre Nico-esque love song about the joy of kissing a dead girl seemed to go a little over the heads of those audience members not used to digesting the odd spoonful of hipster irony).

The evening’s only near-disaster came during a mid-set break in which Banhart invited any local musicians with the nerve (or narcissism) to join the band on stage for an impromptu jam-session. But not even this “musicians” five minute, 3 chord nightmare that he called “Just Rock and Roll, man,” could douse the audiences enthusiasm, and the pace quickly picked up when he was exiled back to the crowd, hopefully to receive some well-deserved mockery. Beyond this slight (but extremely annoying) hiccup, the evening was truly something special, a rare occasion to see a rising star at the apex of his creativity and confidence, and, unfortunately for anyone who wasn’t there, perhaps the last time it will be possible see and mingle with him before the mainstream stardom that seems almost inevitably on the near horizon makes him unable to be just so charmingly accessible.

04.06.06
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