Devendra Banhart - Portland, OR - 11/17/04

By brian

Devendra Banhart
Berbati's Pan Portland, OR
November 17,2004

I had a few preconceived notions going in to this show. One was that it was going to be a very quiet affair; the other was that there was not going to be a lot of energy, both from the stage and from the crowd. By the time I stepped back out into the rainy NW night, both of those notions were destroyed.

For those of you that are not familiar with Devendra Banhart, he is one of the hippy-folk singer songwriters, with a fragile voice and pain in each verse. Take one listen to any of his albums and you get the sense that this man is not really part of this era. Some of his work sounds like it was recorded on an old tape machine back in the 1930's. It is all acoustic, and very gentle. What I saw the other night was very different.

Devendra took the stage solo. Had a seat and started into 'The Body Breaks'. He looks every bit the part... Long beard, long hair, clothing out of 1968, etc. OK, I am thinking, I know how this show is going to go. I felt that right up to the third song where he introduced his 'band'. I use that term a bit loosely. I was not sure exactly who was joining him on stage. In all honesty, it looked like several of the guys that you would find in an alley behind a liquor store. I thought they had invaded the stage from the crowd. NO, This was the band. Frankly, Devendra looked like GQ model of the year in comparison. They launched into the next track, and the rest was history. The songs, which were once very soft and acoustic, now had a jam-band feel. They were much faster, which was detrimental to some tracks but improved others. The most fascinating person on stage was the second guitarist/singer. He took the lead on a few songs with a drunken, off key wail. This guy was the quintessential hobo rock God, leaping into the crowd and working to the groove. It was particularly interesting when this fellow was down on the stage floor with a piece of cloth wrapped around his head. I wasn't sure if this was part of the show, or if medical attention was needed.

Many times throughout the show, I found myself questioning if this is the most brilliant thing I have ever seen, or the most horrifying. Upon final assessment, it was much closer to brilliant. Quite a few of the songs benefited from the up-tempo arrangement, and Devendra really seems to enjoy performing. He had several people join him on stage, and there were hugs and genuine love. That vibe transferred to the crowd who were equally blissed out.

It was a good experience, certainly an interesting one. If you have any inclinations to see him, do make it a point to see Devendra soon. History has not been kind to his type. See Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Gram Parsons etc. Hopefully he has a long and fantastic career, but... I would go see him now to be on the safe side.