DEVENDRA BANHART and SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE at the Music Gallery, November 12. Tickets: $13-$15. Attendance: 200 (sold out). Rating: NNN
Devendra Banhart has the charisma of a cult leader. He could ask you to make love to a pig - a scenario he envisions on the surreal Niño Rojo track Little Yellow Spider, with which he opened his show at the Music Gallery last Friday night - and it'd seem like a brilliant proposition. You'd even buy wine and light candles.
Part of that energy lies in the fantastic mysticism of his lyrics. Surrounded by his band of flower- and veil-adorned shaggy hippies, Banhart purred folk poems populated by mythic archetypes, wise and prickly animals and fabulous landscapes that sounded like Aesop's Fables seen through the eyes of a friendly shaman. The eccentric crowd - a mix of thrifty indie kids, granola types toting their own picnics and boomer-era folk fans - listened with the attentiveness of kindergartners in Sunday school.
That is, when they weren't, uh, flailing like Baptists at a revival meeting. Spurred on by Banhart's calls for "free dancing" - at one point, he offered an anecdote about watching a public free-dance class where everyone squiggled and squirmed like they were "totally fucked up" - the room broke into unselfconscious motion during the band's high-energy R. Kelly cover.
Banhart's earthy, warm voice - he sounds like a cross between a male Cat Power and alt-roots savant M. Ward - quivered through sexed-up ballads like The Body Breaks and made even bizarro fairy stories like This Beard Is For Siobhan into spiritual party music.
While Music Gallery minions scurried to fill Banhart and company's goblets of wine, the crew dialed up wayward friends in Jamaica and performed a stoner reggae jam into the phone, invited audience members to come onstage and sing, strummed through soulful psych-folk freak-outs and generally kept the good vibes flowing.
The set redefined looseness - I definitely could've done without all the free-form jams - but the crowd seemed to be into it.
As a colleague of mine noted, Banhart's birthed a new "folkin' social scene." He may look like the flaky tripper from summer camp, complete with straggly beard-growth and tie-dye duds, but the dude pulled off a pretty transcendental performance. Wish he'd run for U.S. president - if he won, group hugs would become the new domestic policy.