The night opened with San Francisco locals and Devendra Banhart’s long-time friends, Vetiver, who welcomed the audience with a mellow, yet playful indie folk set. Missing their drummer, the remainder of the band actually used the lack of percussion to their advantage, with their reverberated guitars gently warming up the stage for the equally peaceful yet much more bizarre material to follow from Devendra and his band.
Other than his trademark surrealist eccentricity, I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of show to expect from Banhart, given his diverse variety of musical styles employed from album to album (even song to song in his later albums). That being said, when he calmly walked onto the stage, patiently tossing soft, sometimes even multilingual, greetings to the crowd between songs, I knew the show was going to be characterized by the friendliness and joy that was already emanating from the stage.
The show started rolling with a few feather-light grooves from his three most recent albums, including “Saturday Night” and “Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green” from his ninth, and most recent, release Ape in Pink Marble (2016). Banhart was lively and carefree, swaying around the stage and tossing his arms to the beat, having such a shamelessly fun time that the crowd, myself included, couldn’t help but absorb the good spirits. His friendly demeanor colored the show; he took time to remind us twice of Vetiver’s “lovely set,” joked with other band members, asked for requests when starting his solo set, and even replied back to the audience in Spanish after excitedly confirming Spanish speakers were present.
The real gem of the night, however, was the part of the show dedicated to San Francisco. As a former art student and resident of The Castro, Banhart happily declared, “We’ve actually never played here [The Fillmore] before, but this is my favorite city in the world.” Vetiver head Andy Cabic came back out to help sing “At the Hop”—a song they co-wrote when they first met in SF, which was sweet to no end and frankly made my heart melt. Banhart then played “Eviction Party”—an unreleased track from Ape featuring lyrics that speak for themselves: “Everyone that I know got kicked out of San Francisco, couldn’t afford it anymore, uh-huh” and “Fillmore, Slim, let me please be one of your midnight ladies, I’m a good enter on my knees, see what the city’s done to me.” Likewise, Banhart pleaded that he would love to move back to his favorite city, but everyone needed to recommit to what made it shine: “Make More Art!” It was a pivotal moment of the night, and the resulting sense of community was stronger than any I had ever felt at a show. He closed the SF portion by having the rest of the band re-enter with “Daniel”—a song from Mala (2013) about falling in fleeting love while seeing Suede in the Castro and Jon Reed’s San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
The rest of the show continued to pick up energy with his more whimsical yet mellow newer material, along with older fan favorites that demonstrated some diversity in his set. Among the latter were “Shabop Shalom”—a goofy doo-wop piece about a Jamaican boy trying to woo a Jewish girl, complete with over-the-top narration that the drummer seemed more than happy to perform, and “Long Haired Child,” which showed off Jim Morrison- esque vocals and asserted his simple wish for a long-haired child.
Banhart also told a story of how apprehensive he was to play Mexico City in early December, recalling specifically the weight of being falsely associated with the Bush administration as an American during one of his performances there years ago. He continued that when it came time for him to give his prepared speech disassociating himself (and most Americans) from Trump to the crowd, he received the unanimous and somewhat relieving message of “We know”—a sentiment that was also expressed by the crowd at the Japan show he played during the election. Embracing the idea that the rest of the world is aware and all ears, he continued his appeal for more artists to be active at such a critical time as now, and advocated for the general importance of love, which was fitting within the crowd that had been feeding off of Banhart’s friendly radiance the whole night.
The encore kicked off with “Fig in Leather”—one of the stranger songs from Ape, mostly due to its light disco feel and almost-creepy concierge vocal delivery; nonetheless, it was unique and engaging like everything else. Enthusiastically acknowledging exactly where they were performing one final time, Banhart and the band covered The Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain,” which the crowd loved, though it was difficult to match the excitement of the surging “Carmensita,” which finally fulfilled many shouted requests from the crowd and put a close to an incredibly engaging night.
Towards the end of the show, one thing I had noticed was that through all the excitement, the lighting effects seemed minimal for a reason. All of the energy was coming straight from Banhart and the band, and the environment in the theatre seemed not so much performer and audience—it seemed more like a single group of lifted spirits celebrating some art in San Francisco. All in all, Banhart clearly loves San Francisco and was sure to make us feel welcome at his incredibly entertaining performance. We love you too Devendra; we’re glad you feel welcome here too. Let’s make some art.
Written by Dylan Medlock