My first attempt at seeing Devendra Banhart was while he was touring as part of his side-project Megapuss. It was during the fall of 2008 and the band was scheduled to play in Portland Oregon. That show was canceled. 14 months later Devendra returned to Portland to play in support of his latest album What Will We Be (Warner Bros), his 7th full-length studio release and his first since signing with a major label. This show was held on Sunday March 21st and took place at the Crystal Ballroom.
For this tour, Devendra was backed by The Grogs, a band consisting of Noah Georgeson (Megapuss, The Pleased, and producer of the last 2 DB albums) and Rodrigo Armante (Little Joy, Los Hermanos) on guitar, Luckey Remington (The Pleased) on bass, and drummer Greg Rogove (Megapuss, Priestbird). Each of the musicians also provided vocal. The only person that seemed absent was The Strokes drummer, Fabrizio Moretti, who is also a member of Megapuss and of Little Joy with Rodrigo Armante. Despite the wide range of backgrounds and musical influences, I couldn’t get over how much all of the band members looked the same: tall, gaunt, with facial hair in various stages of growth. In fact, if all of the members were placed in a line up, it would be nearly impossible to tell who was who. Even Banhart had shorn his trademark beard and long hair.
While I am familiar with the majority of his work, I was surprised that Devendra‘s set list was not full of cuts from the new album. The songwriter played a varied set, culling material from all of his albums and even allowing his band mates perform songs from their various other projects. Banhart also played a variety of his material solo, either on piano or guitar. Before launching into a cover of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” by Johnny Thunders, Devendra told the audience that he wished that he knew some Big Star songs as a tribute to the recently deceased front man, Alex Chilton. One wonders if the same was said when Jay Reatard died. Later, he invited Dorothy Berry, from the opening act Dorothy and the Originals, onstage to do a duet of “Bad Girl” from his allbum, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. This was the best performance of the night. Other choice songs included “Shabob Shalom”, set opener “Long Haired Child“, and “How About Telling a Story“. While I anticipated an encore of “Rats” from the new album, only the bass line was teased before the band launched into a burning rendition of “Chinese Children“.
Any fan would have been pleased by the energy that Devendra put forth during the show. At one point, when an audience member wanted the shirt he was wearing, he said that he would give up his shirt only if he got one in return. This produced several T-shirts being thrown on stage. True to his word Banhart removed his shirt and passed it into the crowd. This sent several more shirts being thrown on stage.
The only downside of the show being held at the Crystal Ballroom was the fact that it was an all ages event. This means that a barricade was placed straight down the middle of the dance floor, segregating the under 21 crowd from the bar area. Beyond obstructing movement, it also dampened the bouncy, mechanical “floating” floors that the Crystal is known for. Although there was a significant amount of people in attendance for a Sunday night, the venue was hardly at capacity. Ultimately, the one aspect that could have enhanced the performance would have been if it was held at a smaller venue. My only hope is that, next time, they will opt for a more appropriate Portland spot, along the lines of the Roseland or the Wonder Ballroom.