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This is the Soft Voice of the Evening

A Tribute to Devendra Banhart

And hey there mister happy squid, you move so psychedelically
You hypnotize with your magic dance all the animals in the sea
For Sure

Devendra Banhart – Little Yellow Spider

Banhart At first spin of Devendra Banhart’s Little Yellow Spider, one might think it a children’s song. That is what came to mind when I first heard it on a mixed CD a friend sent as a New Year’s gift. Then I reached the line about the pig mating with a man. The appeal only grew.

Who was this poetic troubadour artfully warbling lyrics that were both playful and taboo, naturalistic and psychedelic, odd and profane? Suddenly a drawer had been opened and in it, amongst the lacy vintage shirts and bright paisley dresses, lay the sparkling spangles and baubles of wonder, magic and healing. Every time Little Yellow Spider came on my daughter would yipe, “I love this song,” and I would cough loudly over the pig verse.

I was driven to learn more about this man who could equally endear my child and myself, yet had a secret darkness, a seedy underbelly, a heart that had been broken by human folly.

And hey there Mrs. Lovely Moon, you’re lonely and you’re blue
It’s kind of strange the way you change
But then again we all do, too.

Over the course of a few months I purchased all of Devendra Banhart’s CD’s and found myself enraptured by song in a way I hadn’t been since my birth in the Summer of Love. Wordsmith of alchemical poetry, knitter of connections between microcosm and macrocosm, Banhart was projecting a wolf cry for our generation. In one album I could find pagan spell work, poignant love ballad and subversive declarations of liberation. Banhart was showman with a bowler hat and cane, skinny 60’s love child smoking peace pipe amongst oat straw and star thistle, edgy outrageous queen performing acts of desire behind closed doors, mother, yogi, long haired child. All this, and multilingual vocalist extraordinaire, who can, as my husband likes to say, “play his axe.”

I heard somebody say
That the war ended today
But everyone knows it’s goin’ still

Our motherlands and motherseas
Here’s what we believe
It’s simple
We don’t want to kill

For years I’ve been asking myself, where are the musicians of our generation who can capture the spirit of the age like those of the 60’s did?

Finally Devendra Banhart has arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, I have fallen in love with many contemporary musicians over the years, from The Fall to Sonic Youth, Nick Cave to Neko Case, Bjork to PJ Harvey, Beck to Belle and Sebastian, Ben Harper to Beth Orton. But Devendra Banhart, while totally original, has begun to fill like no one else some of those gaps in me that formed when the thing of the 60’s faded away. When there was no hope that the Beatles or the Band would reunite. When Jerry Garcia died and there was no more tour. When Joni Mitchell’s songs stopped speaking to me like sun passing through a glass prism.

Until the end of my days I will listen to the original Fairport Convention or the original Pentangle or the original Pink Floyd. But the end days of those bands in their original form have come to pass. And all those premature deaths? Nick Drake, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Sandy Denny, John Lennon, George Harrison?

Banhart2 Devendra Banhart, along with a community of creative musicians, steps into those dead shoes and steps out in glorious living regalia, piping something brand new yet olden into our ears. We’ve been gifted with a gorgeous, strong, shining cabinet of drawers to open and marvel at. It is made of recycled wood. It has been refinished. There is mother of pearl inlay. And each compartment holds some news.

Wrap me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones
sing a mending moan, a song to bring you home

I’m a little bit embarrassed that at age 40 I’m giddy over a twenty something rock star. At the same time, I’m relieved. In a world where hope makes you a hopeless romantic, music, art and poetry will prevail. This has been a good year for rock music. I’ve also stumbled upon the Akron Family, Joanna Newsom, Giant Skyflower Band, Vetiver, Matteah Baim and Animal Collective. So much of this music speaks to my bones. And I’m enlivened by the knowledge that there is ever more to discover.

But at this moment I’m waxing poetic about Devendra Banhart because I saw him live in Washington, DC, on the first of October. This was a 40th birthday present from my husband, not a bad way to begin the middling decade. Our daughter had a school night sleepover with a friend while we drove two hours North to the Nation’s capitol to chicken dance in a Chinatown synagogue.

I was blown away by Banhart’s vocal integrity. The harmonies he and his band achieved were chilling. Never had I dreamed that I would swoon to anything remotely resembling a Barber Shop Quintet. And after the band laid into Seahorse like true Rock and Roll legends, the audience decided to rise from their pews and shake the menorahs from their pedestals.

When my baby slips out my mama’s womb
We’re gonna enter a new life
Enter a new life, that’s for sure
You’re gonna enter your self back through your baby’s front door

I was relieved that the show consisted of several older songs along with selections from the new album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. After opening with a smooth finger picking acoustic ditty, and So Long Mr. Bean, he went on to sing I Heard Somebody Say, followed by Freely and At the Hop, a trio of songs that spoke all the more passionately in the back yard of George Bush. At some point Long Haired Child came to pass, as well as Mama Wolf, and several excellent choices from the new album: Bad Girl (which, incidentally, Banhart said was about himself), My Dearest Friend, Lover, Shabop Shalom (all the more entertaining in a historic synagogue), and Tonada Yanomamainaria, amongst others. I was pleasantly surprised by Little Yellow Spider in the encore and psyched to witness a live version of I Feel Just Like a Child. Band members, Noah Georgeson, Andy Cabic and Greg Rogove, also honored us with three of their individual songs.

Now that our bones lay buried below us
Just like stones pressed into the earth
Well we ain’t known by no one before us
And we begin with this one little birth

I suppose it is a totally personal thing, this entrancement. Shards of reflective glass, taking me back to my first psychedelic experiences, the musical vivification that came to me with Scarlet Fire, late nights smoking splif with fellow creators in San Francisco, golden hills giving way to ocean, sun beam passing through Redwood stand, the enchantment that is New Mexico and the awakening that is India. I also have an appreciation for boys who are willing to sport sequined dresses and outrageous eye make up.

The transformation of lemons to geodes, tears to torn satin, socks to eucalyptus pods. The blink of an eyelash carrying waves into a Pacific cove. Hand gestures demanding the wind abide. I am grateful to Devendra Banhart for his rich, delicious bonbons, for speaking in colors and for giving me a rocking chair under a Korean Dogwood. I have spent the last several months under this tree, and can’t think of a better place in the coming winter to rest, remember and find renewal.

This is the sound
That swims inside me
That circle sound
Is what surrounds me
This is the land
That grows around me
And these are the hands
That come in handy

Well we’ve known we’ve known
We’ve had a choice
We chose rejoice

More Devendra:

young god records

xl recordings

Devendra Banhart MySpace

Devendra Banhart Wikipedia

Devendra Banhart at home in Topanga Canyon

From → Cut-Out Bin

  1. shacker permalink

    Zoe, just wondering whether you’ve heard Angels of Light – with some far-flung connection to Akron Family. Hard to touch Devendra, but I think you’ll find them up your alley.

  2. i have not heard of them, but will definitely check them out. i listened to two new things today. one is the akron family’s new album love is simple. spine tingling happiness with good improv noise segments. and cocorosie. they have a wonderful website with a couple of videos. really creative sisters doing as they please. i just love all this stuff.

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