‘Don’t judge it until you see the whole thing through! I know it might seem weird at first but I think you’ll like it: at least Natalie Portman is in it!’ Those were the words of a friend of mine during one of those now classic Show & Share YouTube nights. Well, this writer would see something pretty even if the song wasn’t good, but it was! I’m talking about Devendra Banhart’s Carmencita video, influenced by Bollywood and old Indian films, with said star as a special guest, a cheesy b-movie-ish look and a three note tune in Spanish.
This was a few years ago, during Devendra’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon era, marked by a lot of genre experimentation and a long haired persona. Banhart never settles for a new album and tour in each new project: a new Banhart is born each time and that one I found on a boring YouTube night was my favorite, the one that I’ve always wanted to see live, so I thought that that weekend would be my chance.
Devendra Banhart’s “Never Seen Such Good Words”
My lonely endeavor to this Saturday night show in one of México City’s most colorful neighborhoods became a Benetton ad with the visit of an old friend from Australia, Ashleigh, and his traveling companion and good friend Fabio from Portugal, both unaware of what to expect. Outside the venue, my buddy Aldo was expecting us along with a friend a few minutes before show time to show the place around to the guys. But, surprisingly, there was already a bunch of people inside the Plaza screaming for someone already on stage, so we all ran inside: it was Adanowsky, Devendra‘s intimate friend and collaborator, son of film director Alejandro Jodorowsky and sometimes actor.
With a couple albums and movies under his belt, I’ve already seen Adanowsky opening up for a big act such as Phoenix a couple of years ago accompanied by a full band: now he was just standing there, with a guitar in hand and a mariachi jacket on. Like taking advantage of an invitation to hang out with a good friend, Adanowsky had fun with the audience and sang some of his very own classics such as Amor Sin Fin, Mamá and Déjame Llorar, with the promise of a third new album by next year and the pleasure of introducing his so called ‘cousin’ Devendra on his second and last show in the city.
And here he was, this skinny bearded guy with an electric guitar around his neck and three friends on stage being welcomed by the screams of what sounded like high school girls at a bridal shower and a few Te Amo shouts in the air, playing the first notes of the first song of the night and off his latest album, Mala, called Golden Girls. Song two was the hard pronouncing Für Hildegard von Bingen, followed by the more familiar fan favorite Baby, the Spanish sang Brindo and another excerpt from his new album, Daniel.
Just before embarking on one of his masterpieces, Seahorse, someone from the audience yelled ¡Viva Venezuela! – Devendra’s mother home country and where he was partly raised during his childhood – at the top of his lungs, receiving the micro phoned answer No, no, of course Viva Venezuela, but Viva México too! After the oddity and odyssey of Seahorse and noticing that my two foreign friends had disappeared from the venue, the mood was settled down to an acoustic and folky half an hour medley with a twist: the premiere of a new unfinished song entitled Niño Muerto, impossible to appreciate for the high school girls’ screams and the awful pronunciation and lack of future telling of a girl behind me, who wasn’t able to hit any audible note the whole night or even sing the lyrics properly.
Devendra’s unique vocal howls and signature vibrato came and went in every song, delighting some and annoying others, in a show completely different of what the not so hardcore fans like us were expecting. After the twentieth song, the band went and came for a three song encore, starting with a smooth rendition of Won’t You Come Over, extending the joy along with the reggae-ish Foolin’ and ending it with the song that started it all for me, Carmensita. After hours of frowning and distracting himself –he wasn’t the only one- I finally saw Aldo and many others smiling for the first time since the show started, singing and dancing along to a song whose lyrics makes no sense but messes up with your senses, in a good way, at the same time: something oddly beautiful.
With no second encore and what felt like a short concert – partially because it began half an hour before scheduled- we finally found Ashleigh and Fabio outside, waiting for us since half of the concert because she was about to faint – not a new record, for a girl had already fainted even before Devendra began his set.
I’m not saying this show was bad or good or anything in between, it’s just that this was a whole new Devendra Banhart for me. If you fall in love with the music of his 8 albums and 11 year old career, be aware that you might be falling in love with one out of eight different people. If you are a hardcore fan, you’ll love it; if you are not, you are already warned that the artist you love might not be the one on stage that night.
Either way, you are in for quite a pleasant trip and to witness a man born out of the clash of many cultures and genres with the charm of a Latin street singer and a European artistic boldness to him.
Kudos to Aldo for suffering all the public love and bad singing of both the couple and the girl around us: you are a champion. And to my dear Ashleigh and Fabio: I promise a less charming artist to prevent fainting and less bus rides next time. I love you all.
Photos by Alex Vázquez-Mellado | Photographer (to see more photos from this show click here)
Written by Jorge A. López Mendicuti | OurVinyl | Senior Writer