The trajectory of musician Devendra Banhart's career is not typical of many in the music industry. Take Eric Clapton, for instance. Clapton started out in collaborative, hard-rocking supergroups known for extended solos in the '60s and '70s, only to become even more famous later in his career via stripped-down, mostly acoustic versions of his earlier songs.
Banhart, on the other hand, started out a quirky freak-folkster solo performer with androgynous Tiny Tim tendencies and has transformed his band into a jam-heavy '60s throwback, complete with fuzzed-out guitar solos and Jim Morrisonesque vocals (and belt buckles). He brought this incarnation to the Rialto Theatre last Wednesday night.
The serious tone set by various members of Banhart's bearded band (facial hair seems to be a requirement) by addressing the crowd in Spanish soon lightened up as they began to pepper their introductions with phrases like "mas enchiladas"; Banhart's choice of band pseudonyms, which included Spiritual Boner (with a silent "Z," apparently, though I'm not sure where to place it) and The Fat Boys, was equally amusing.
Banhart concentrated on the new release, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, highlighting the genre-jumping disc with the doo-wop-for-Jews ditty "Shabop Shalom"; "Lover," which is kinda like Led Zeppelin covering the Jackson Five on Physical Graffiti; and "Carmencita," a Santana-inspired opus that inspired me to grab another Nimbus.
It was no surprise that Thunder Canyon's "single" (at eight minutes, the term hardly applies), "Seahorse," which starts with barely a whisper, takes a jazz left turn only to get all acid-rock-epic, got the biggest response of the night, rivaling the crowd favorite, "At the Hop," off of 2004's Niño Rojo. It was hard not to get choked up and think about a loved one you recently took to the airport while Banhart and crew harmonized the lyrics, "You have such a pretty face, so put me in your suitcase."
Perhaps the only thing that could compete with that moment and the encore, "Little Yellow Spider," also off of Niño Rojo, was when Banhart invited an audience member to come up and sing a song no one else had heard, something the group does regularly on tour. Newly relocated local musician Margaret Lane jumped on stage and absolutely killed with an original she called "Ropes for Your Daughters, Sons." Talk about getting a positive career trajectory!