Devendra Banhart brought his complex, charismatic, Latin-infused hipster-folk to the WOW Hall on Sunday, October 20. Some of Banhart’s music can be hard to pin down — exquisitely precise melodies and charmingly poetic lyrics in several different languages — but the performance was lighthearted, intimate and genuine.
A month after the mid-September release of Banhart’s tenth studio album, “Ma,” the Venezuelan singer-songwriter began the U.S. leg of his tour. Opening the night around 9 p.m. were a drummer and keyboardist — who introduced themselves as Jeremy and Greg, respectively — playing a slightly watered down version of a genre similar to Banhart. When their brief, bare-bones folk set ended, they stuck around to play with Banhart in the main act.
Accompanied by simplistic, cool blue stage lights, Banhart and his five-piece band walked onstage, opening with “Is This Nice?” a playful track off his newest album. “Is this nice?/do you like it?/would you like me to sing you this song?” he sang from his stool, with the bass vibrating from the speakers beside him.
Onstage, Banhart is all slinky charm and mischievous grins. His music has dreamy qualities, designed for open fields and balmy summer nights — but the intimacy translated seamlessly to the appreciative crowd at the dark and historic WOW Hall. As the group transitioned to “Abre Las Manos,” Banhart teemed with genuine delight.
Addressing the crowd openly and often throughout the night, his first question was what exactly the WOW Hall stood for. Someone in the crowd jokingly yelled, “Woodsmen of the World,” to which Banhart gestured at his modern black overalls layered over a white Los Lobos sweatshirt and laughed. “I think I dressed appropriately, then.”
During a breathing moment between songs, Banhart put his heart on his sleeve. “I have to say thank you to someone I love,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve told them that I love them before, and if I have, it hasn’t been enough.” He then thanked his guitar player, Nicole Lawrence, before thanking the rest of the band onstage, telling them how beautiful they are and how much he loves and appreciates them. Banhart’s happiness seeped through the hugs and kisses he gave his bandmates. It translated through his strange, rambling jokes that sent him into short fits of laughter.
When Banhart and the band performed “Taking a Page,” a spirited love song off “Ma,” he began showing off his dance moves. He whimsically leapt and twirled around the stage with bent knees and poised hands as he sang. He hugged the band again before moving into the next chunk of the show, in which he performed solo. Banhart sat in the middle of the stage with his guitar, centered in the blue wash of light behind him. “I’d like to be on a petal,” he said into the microphone, at this point to minimal surprise — the audience was now familiar with his eccentricity. “Think of your favorite flower. Now imagine being on a petal of your favorite flower.”
The group came back onstage to close the set with “Baby,” Banhart’s most well-known single. Perhaps because of his extensive discography, or that the crowd wanted to take in the multi-faceted nature of the music, this was the first time that the audience was largely singing along. This was only the first time he left the stage. The band shortly came back for an encore, with grins on their faces to play “Carmensita,” — before blowing kisses to the crowd and making their final exit.